It shouldn’t be a revelation at this point, but Novak Djokovic isn’t backing down.
Not after all drains on his energy and blows his image. Not after being detained twice in Melbourne, Australia last month. Not after his expulsion from this country on the eve of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year. Not after being forced to watch long-time rival Rafael Nadal take the lead in his career with a 21st major men’s singles title from afar.
For now, Djokovic still won’t get a coronavirus shot, no matter how much it will cost him, as he made clear in a BBC interview which aired on Tuesday and in which the interviewer, Amol Rajan, summed up much of the global mood by ditching journalistic composure and pleading, “Why Novak, why, why?”
“Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” Djokovic replied. “I try to be in harmony with my body as much as possible.”
This approach puts him out of step with his sport and his time. According to the ATP, the men’s tennis tour, he is the only one of the top 100 men’s singles players not to have been vaccinated against Covid-19. In an international sport that often requires players to cross borders every week, his freedom of movement and access to tournaments will be limited depending on local pandemic restrictions.
It may not be easy for a self-proclaimed libertarian, but it is Djokovic’s choice, pure and simple, even if it resonates far beyond his personal space.
Although he plans to return to action for the ATP event in Dubai next week, his status as an unvaccinated foreigner means he will not be allowed to enter the United States to compete in top-level tournaments. next month in Indian Wells, California. , and in Miami unless he has a waiver. This is considered unlikely based on the criteria, which do not include prior coronavirus infection.
Djokovic, who was infected with the coronavirus in 2020, said he tested positive again in Serbia on December 16, 2021, which prompted his decision to travel to Melbourne for the Australian Open with what he believed to be a valid exemption from the country’s entry requirements. Instead, he was deported after being detained and losing his last appeal, with the Australian government successfully arguing that his presence could risk promoting anti-vaccine sentiment in the country.
Djokovic said he “completely disagrees” with the decision, but unless the rules in France change, Djokovic will not be allowed to play in the next Grand Slam tournament, the French Open, which begins in May. He also might not be allowed to compete at the Monte-Carlo Open in April in the tax haven of the French Riviera, where he officially resides. From Tuesday, the French government, which requires a vaccine passport to access sports venues and other public facilities, will only grant a four-month grace period to people who are infected but not vaccinated. His grace period would expire in April.
But Djokovic, still the world No. 1 in men’s singles, calmly said on Tuesday he was ready to accept the consequences, even if it meant it denied him the chance to win the race to be considered the greatest of them all. the temperature.
“That’s the price I’m willing to pay,” he said.
It is not known how high this price will be. He will still have access to many tournaments. The men’s tour strongly encourages vaccination but did not enforce it. National regulations are changing rapidly. Today’s closed border could be open in months or even weeks. France has a presidential election this spring that could lead to a change in government and coronavirus policy and possibly open the doors to Roland Garros.
Djokovic reserves the right to change his mind on vaccination, but for now his approach puts him at a competitive disadvantage and will likely cost him the No. 1 ranking in the coming weeks as Russia’s Daniil Medvedev approximate.
Djokovic holds the men’s record for total weeks at No. 1 at 360 (and counting). He is the only man to have won all nine Masters 1000 events and he has won them twice. He also holds a head-to-head advantage over his biggest rivals: Nadal and Roger Federer.
But the overall Grand Slam record is what shines brightest at this point, and Nadal has 21 major singles titles to 20 for Djokovic and Federer. Djokovic is the defending French Open champion, but if he is unable to play, Nadal will be an even bigger favorite having won it 13 times already.
Djokovic should have access to Wimbledon unless Britain’s coronavirus policy changes. He has been the most successful grass-court player in recent years, winning six at the All England Club. But playing at the US Open, the final Grand Slam tournament of the year, will be problematic with the US banning unvaccinated foreigners.
“The United States Tennis Association and the US Open will welcome all players who meet the guidelines put in place by the US government, by the city of New York and by the tournament,” Chris Widmaier, spokesperson for the tournament, said on Tuesday. ‘USTA. .
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Missing three of four majors in a season would be a blow to Djokovic’s quest to finish atop the Grand Slam tally. After being deported last month, he is also banned for three years from traveling to Australia, although Australian government officials have indicated that this ban could be overturned.
Djokovic also has to deal with the changing landscape of men’s tennis. A young generation of talented and powerful players is rising, including Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Matteo Berrettini, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
At 34, Djokovic will need to stay sharp to stay at the cutting edge but Nadal, 35, and Federer, 40, have already proven that it is possible to win majors at older ages for tennis.
Djokovic, however, has polarized opinion like none of his rivals. While he reaffirmed on Tuesday that he did not want to be associated with the anti-vaccine movement, his notoriety and wall-to-wall coverage of the Australian fiasco ensured the opposite.
“It’s really a shame 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,” he said. declared.
If so, it would definitely have helped if he had clarified this a long time ago instead of dodging the topic and questions about his vaccination status. His decision to speak with the BBC seemed an admission that his earlier approach had created too much ambiguity. He spoke of feeling hurt by the “looks” of his teammates in Melbourne after winning his initial call-up and training there ahead of the tournament.
But then for a man who speaks six languages, Djokovic has long had a communication problem. He has a restless mind and intelligence and has sometimes been his worst enemy: making choices that backfire, such as getting knocked out of the 2020 US Open by inadvertently hitting a linesman in the throat with a ball that he had struck in frustration.
It wasn’t the first time Djokovic kicked a ball angrily. But though his aim and judgment have too often failed him, he is one of the most resilient modern champions, emerging from wartime Serbia to break the Federer-Nadal duopoly. He bounced back from a long slump and lingering elbow injury to dominate again in 2018. He bounced back from that US Open mishap in 2020 to find himself one game away from a true Grand Slam in 2021.
He has overcome many obstacles, some of his own creation, during his long and phenomenal run to the top of men’s tennis, but this is new territory. To bounce back and reconnect with the historic chase, he must first be able to compete.