Tennis Channel Live: Tennis Australia on the deportation of Novak Djokovic

I understand the consequences of my decision, and one of the consequences was not going to Australia, and I was prepared not to go. And I understand that not being vaccinated today, you know, I am unable to travel to most of the tournaments. . . That is the price that I am willing to pay. Novak Djokovic, telling the BBC in an interview that he is prepared to forego taking part in upcoming tennis tournaments, including Grand Slam events, because of his decision not to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.


Words like “indomitable” and “intransigent” have always figured in the accolades heaped upon Novak Djokovic. But those same qualities may ultimately torpedo Djokovic’s proclaimed goal of becoming the most prolific Grand Slam champion in the history of the game.

In telling the BBC that he is unequivocally committed to sitting out the upcoming majors if they require him to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the world’s No. 1 player is throwing his own left hook at the tennis establishment. Now, with the pandemic seemingly on the wane, growing resistance to protocols triggered by the health crisis, and tennis eager to return to a semblance of normalcy, the question becomes, “Who blinks?”

Will the lords of Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open mount some form of campaign to ensure that Djokovic be able to compete, or will they stand firm on rules that make competing in their events contingent upon being vaccinated? A lot can happen in the coming months, but it’s as if Djokovic and the tennis establishment are playing an unprecedented game of chicken, only that proverbial cliff neither really wants to go over keeps moving.

With his comments to the BBC, Novak Djokovic has left nothing to interpretation, saying that he'll forgo tournaments like Roland Garros and Wimbledon if they require players to be vaccinated.

With his comments to the BBC, Novak Djokovic has left nothing to interpretation, saying that he'll forgo tournaments like Roland Garros and Wimbledon if they require players to be vaccinated.


If the Super Bowl sent the message that normalcy isn’t just around the corner, but already parked out front (there was nary a mask in a crowd of some 70,000, and the commentators made no more mention of Covid than of Confucius), you can bet health officials everywhere will be reviewing their modus operandi.

But that doesn’t get Djokovic off the hook for making an unholy mess out of his pas de deux with the issue of vaccination, nor for angering and alienating millions of people with his system-beating machinations before the Australian Open. Djokovic, now 34, has chosen the hill he’s willing to die on, and it isn’t the one called “Henman.” He frames his decisions as born of principle, when the better word might be nuclear-grade self-interest—or perhaps even narcissism. Regard his words in another portion of the interview:

“I understand that globally everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus, and seeing hopefully an end soon to this virus, and vaccination is probably the biggest effort that was made on behalf of the planet. And I fully respect that. But I have always represented and always supported freedom to choose what you put into your body. And for me that is really the principle of understanding what is right for you and what is wrong for you.”

Gee, thanks for respecting the great effort on behalf of the planet, but now how about doing your part?

Djokovic agrees that vaccination is the key to ending the pandemic (according to the BBC, some 4.88 billion people—about 60 percent of the world population—now have truly negligible risk due to vaccines), he isn’t certain it’s the right thing for him because. . . his body is his temple. What are all those other billions of bodies, outhouses?


“Freedom” and “principle” are powerful words that ought to be used sparingly in the Covid conversation. Nobody has ever questioned Djokovic’s freedom to be unvaccinated, only the idea that he was free to game the system in January, or avoid the rules governing entry into tennis tournaments. Incidentally, the majority of Djokovic’s peers have quietly accepted vaccination and its inherent risks as the cost of doing business, and they’ve done it without throwing around loaded words like “sacrifice,” or “civic duty.”

But there may be more than defiant self-absorption, or even Djokovic’s well-documented weakness for junk science, in the ongoing tale of Novak and the Jab. He painted himself into a corner in Australia and, in an astonishing reversal of history, he left the country looking more like a pariah than an adopted favorite paragon. When Djokovic was asked what he would say to those who would claim him as a fellow anti-vaxxer, he replied:

“I say that everyone has the right to choose or act or say whatever they feel is appropriate for them. And I have never said that I am part of that movement. No one in the whole process, [the] Australian Open saga, has asked me about my stance, or my opinion, on vaccination. No one.”

Given the facts of that “saga,” did anyone really need to?

This was beginning to smell of damage control, especially after Djokovic added, “So it’s really unfortunate that there has been this kind of misconception and wrong conclusion that has been made around the world based on something that I completely disagree with.”

So don’t call Djokovic an anti-vaxxer. Maybe he’s just not ready to blink.