Novak Djokovic, the world’s number one tennis player, told interviewers on Tuesday that he is willing to forego playing in the French Open and Wimbledon and that he is still not vaccinated against the coronavirus.
If he is forced to choose, Djokovic said he is prepared to forego the opportunity to improve upon Rafael Nadal’s record of 21 Grand Slams titles, while he continues to protest against mandatory vaccinations.
At a time when Europe and the Americas are beginning to dial back on masking and vaccine mandates, with many nations rescinding their Covid-19 testing rules for entry, Djokovic may not have to make that decision at all.
Novak Djokovic still angry about Australian fiasco
But the Serbian is still angry about the fiasco that occurred in Australia, when he attempted to play in the Australian Open, believing that he was exempt from vaccination mandates since he had recuperated from the virus in December. That didn’t end well, with the world’s best tennis player booted from the country after a legal back and forth between the tennis federation and the Australian government.
Djokovic ended up being deported from the country while his fellow players who were all vaccinated — whether or not they had recovered from the virus — took part in the glamorous Grand Slam event.
Now, his chief opponent, Nadal, who has won the Australian Open, setting a record of winning 21 major titles, may not have to worry about facing the Serb in Paris or Wimbledon either.
Speaking to interviewers from the BBC, the 20-time Grand Slam winner, who still sits at the very top of the world rankings, said that giving up the chance to play at these other Grand Slam events this year is “the price that I am willing to pay” for not giving in to vaccine mandates.
The 34-year-old Serb’s continued stance against the mandates is likely to endear him even further to those who are against the coronavirus vaccines.
Although Djokovic has already stated that he is not opposed to vaccinations in and of themselves, he does not believe he should be subject to a mandated vaccine. In the past, as a result of the brouhaha in Australia, he tried to tamp down any possible links to antivaxxers, stating “I have never said that I am part of that movement.”
However, he maintained, “everyone has the right to choose, to act, or say what ever they feel is appropriate for them” and that also entails “the freedom to choose what you put into your body. And, for me, that is essential.
Djokovic:”That is the price I am willing to pay”
“I am trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can,” Djokovic explained, noting that this is only a continuation of the strict nutrition regimen he has been on for years. “Based on all the information that I got, I decided not to take the vaccine, as of today.
“I understand the consequences of my decision,” Djokovic acknowledged, adding “I understand that not being vaccinated today, you know, I am unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment.”
When reporters asked him if he was prepared to forego the French Open, which takes place in Paris in May, the world number one player repeated: “That is the price that I am willing to pay,” adding that he would also be prepared to skip Wimbledon, which takes place in July.
“Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” he stated.
In the BBC interview, Djokovic recounted the ins and outs of his deportation from Australia, saying again how unhappy he was at being formally turned out of the country.
“What people probably don’t know is that I was not deported from Australia on the basis that I was not vaccinated, or I broke any rules or that I made an error in my visa declaration,” the player pointed out, adding “The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the minister for immigration used his discretional right to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.”
At the beginning of the Australian Open saga, Djokovic was granted an exemption to the country’s draconian vaccination rules by not only two medical panels but Tennis Australia as well, leading him to believe that there would be no impediment to playing there.
His exemption, which was based on evidence that he had recovered from the coronavirus in December, was thought to have allowed him to receive the needed visa to enter Australia. However, when he arrived there, border officials at the airport said his exemption was invalid and they began deportation proceedings.
The legal wrangling that ensued brought up issues of whether or not he was singled out for special treatment by being allowed to enter the country in the first place, since he was unvaccinated, while others stated that he was being made an example of because of his celebrity status.
Refuting the prior allegation, Djokovic told the BBC: “I never used my privileged status to get into Australia by force or do anything in this entire process.”
Australia has some of the most draconian anti-coronavirus measures on the planet, complicating matters; added to this was the fact that its Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, has exceptionally broad powers enabling him to make many decisions based on his discretion alone.
After an Australian court initially ruled on procedural grounds that the player could stay and compete, Hawke later decided to deport him, saying that Djokovic’s presence alone might stir up anti-vaccine sentiments in the country.
“I understand that there has been lots of, say, frustrations from Australian people towards me and towards the entire situation and the way it was dealt with,” Djokovic admitted to the BBC, noting, however, that “I would like to say that I always followed the rules.”
The next Grand Slam tournaments, occurring in France and the UK, might mean that the world’s #1 player may have smooth sailing anyway, since the UK ruled last week that unvaccinated people may enter the country as long as they submit to testing before and after their arrival.
With things in Europe opening up as the Omicron variant wanes, and many countries reversing their strictures on vaccinated travelers, France may well join the ranks of nations who are loosening their measures.
Last week, French government officials stated that vaccine requirements may be lifted at the end of March or beginning of April.
Beginning Tuesday, France will allow all who have not been vaccinated to show proof they tested positive for the coronavirus within the previous four months to enter sporting venues.
This is a narrowing down of the previous time, which was six months. French law as a whole has aimed to bar unvaccinated people from stadiums, restaurants, bars and other places where people gather, but does recognize the immunity granted by recovery from the virus.
Djokovic had admitted that he tested positive for the virus in mid-December (although he subsequently attended two public gatherings in Serbia after that point). This means that, according to the French rulings, if the four-month requirement is still in force, he is likely to be barred from participating in the French Open unless he does become vaccinated — or tests positive once again within four months of the start of the Grand Slam, on May 22.
The Serb has won the French Open two times, including just last year, and he has six Wimbledon titles under his belt, winning the last three contests there on the grass.
However, Nadal ended up on top of this year’s Australian Open, which brought him one more major title than both Djokovic and Roger Federer.