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“The price that I'm willing to pay”: Novak Djokovic won't compromise freedom of choice to contest Grand Slam events requiring vaccination
The 20-time major champion opened up to the BBC in his first interview since being deported from Australia on January 16.
Published Feb 15, 2022
FLASHBACK: Discussing Djokovic's deportation on TC Live
In 2021, Novak Djokovic fell one win short of becoming just the second man in the Open Era to clinch a calendar-year Grand Slam. In 2022, it’s possible the world No. 1 won’t defend any of the major trophies he hoisted.
Djokovic is yet to step onto a match court this year following January’s saga that ultimately saw the 34-year-old deported from Australia by the country’s immigration minister. Among other things, Alex Hawke’s decision centered around Djokovic’s unwillingness to get the COVID-19 vaccine and how his profile Down Under could inspire an uprise in anti-vaccination sentiment.
Speaking to the BBC in his first interview since being sent home, Djokovic declared missing the sport’s biggest events, such as Roland Garros and Wimbledon, “is the price that I'm willing to pay” in order to avoid compliance with any tournament requiring mandatory vaccination for participation.
“The principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I'm trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can,” he said.
Djokovic maintained that “I was never against vaccination”, later reinforcing his visa wasn’t canceled due to his lack of getting the jab, the clerical error on his arriving visa declaration that sparked debate about the validity of his December 16 positive COVID-19 test, or breaking any laws. The Serbian left Australia disheartened with Hawke’s final determination on why he shouldn't be permitted to stay.
“The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the Minister for Immigration used his discretion 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,” he said.
“I've always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
A nine-time champion at the Australian Open, Djokovic was a considerable favorite to overtake Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the first time in the historic men’s major race. Instead, Nadal—who has lost his last 19 sets on hard courts against Djokovic—triumphed at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2009 to reach 21 majors and will go into the French Open starving for more after being outclassed by Djokovic in last year’s semifinals.
Djokovic is set to make his 2022 debut next week in Dubai, where he has claimed five of his 86 career titles. Regardless of how he performs, Djokovic will see Daniil Medvedev—the man who denied him in last year’s US Open final—usurp him atop the rankings if the Russian wins the Acapulco crown. The ATP has outlined the projected scenarios, assuming both players compete at their respective 500-level events as planned.