end of the road? | 

Novak Djokovic warned his tennis career could be 'tricky' unless he gets vaccinated

Eight-time Grand Slam winning champion Mats Wilander believes Djokovic may struggle to continue his tennis career if he refuses to be vaccinated.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his ninth Australian Open title at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia last February.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his ninth Australian Open title at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia last February.

Kevin Palmer

Is this the beginning of the end of Novak Djokovic's tennis career?

As the world number one sits in a quarantine hotel in Melbourne awaiting the outcome of an appeal after his visa to enter the country was revoked on Monday, there has to be a question over whether Djokovic can continue his career if he remains committed to his anti-vaxx stance.

The debate over whether he should have been granted a medical exemption almost feels like old news now after a tumultuous week that has seen the defending Australian Open champion used as a pawn in a political game that has gone well beyond where it should have done.

Throughout 2021, Djokovic’s numerous press conferences were dominated by persistent questions over his vaccine status, with his comment that he was “opposed to vaccination” in a Facebook live event in the summer of 2020 giving a clear indication of his stance on this issue.

So from the moment authorities in Melbourne declared all players competing at this year’s Australian Open would need to be fully vaccinated in order to take part, the spotlight on Djokovic began to shine with an intensity that should have alerted the Serbian to what could be around the corner.

Yet elite sports stars are known to live in a bubble inflated by air from their own egos and as Djokovic posted a smiling photograph on Monday to declare he had been given a medical exemption to travel to Australia despite being unvaccinated, the storm his imminent arrival stirred up was always going to turn nasty.

Once the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison got involved and suggested Djokovic could be “on the next plane home” unless he had a valid explanation to justify his medical exemption to enter the country, the wheels were set in motion on a story that ended with his visa being cancelled on his arrival in Melbourne and a firestorm erupting around him.

He may still get a chance to defend his Australian Open title in a tournament that gets underway on Monday week, but eight-time Grand Slam winning champion Mats Wilander believes Djokovic may struggle to continue his tennis career if he refuses to be vaccinated.

“It does look very tricky,” Wilander told Tennis365 in an exclusive interview ahead of Eurosport’s coverage of the Australian Open. “Being quarantined for a few days before you try and win a Grand Slam tournament is very difficult.

“Will this case set some kind of precedent for him going forward? I’m not sure. It’s just very unfortunate.

“The same time there are rules and regulations for the common Australian person who has not been able to go home forever, so it is up to the officials now.

“We kind of need to know what the medical exemption is for. It is private information, but it would make things easier. How did this come about that he is standing in front of a customs officer and he gets denied (entry)? How did it come to that point?

“It sounds like Novak thought he was good to travel and suddenly he wasn’t. Tennis is a global sport and we need to show that we are respectable citizens and do what everybody else is doing.”

One possible outcome from this entirely avoidable mess must be Djokovic declaring he has had enough of the circus, packing his bags and heading out a country that clearly does not welcome his presence.

Serbian tennis fans and anti vaccination protesters are seen outside the Park Hotel on January 07, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia where Novak Djokovic is being held while he challenges the decision to cancel his visa for entry in to Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Serbian tennis fans and anti vaccination protesters are seen outside the Park Hotel on January 07, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia where Novak Djokovic is being held while he challenges the decision to cancel his visa for entry in to Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Djokovic's problems will not end in Australia as under the rules as they stand right now around the world, he faces challenges getting into America without a vaccine for the Masters series events coming up in Indian Wells and Miami in March.

He might also have problems getting into England to defend his Wimbledon title next summer, as may need to apply for an exemption to enter the country.

Then what happens this time next year, when Djokovic attempts to get back into Australia if the current Covid travel restrictions remain in place?

It may get to a point where Djokovic is faced with a choice of continuing his career at the top of the game or staying true to his beliefs and refusing to be vaccinated.

If he didn’t realise that choice was coming his way prior to his travails in Australia, he certainly does now.


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