Novak Djokovic has fought through adversity of his own and others’ making for as long as he has been playing tennis.
He overcame incredible odds to become a champion. This was despite economic hardship and a conflict which made Serbia, his homeland, an international pariah. It made it difficult for him and his family to travel and train. Once on tour, he had to contend with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, well on their way to becoming two of the game’s greatest players. Djokovic caught up with them and now has a career advantage in both rivalries. He is also ranked No. He has been ranked No. 1 for 356 consecutive weeks, a record.
Djokovic, a stubborn and resilient man, has had more fights in his life than the one he is currently facing with the Australian government regarding his visa. This battle, which continues to be fought, is unlike any others he has faced. Despite his unexpected victory in Australia on Monday, a federal court overturned his visa revocation on procedural grounds. He will still be deported by Australian immigration authorities prior to the Australian Open, which begins next week.
Djokovic’s five-day detention, ended by the court ruling, was a blink of the eye compared with the detentions of some longstanding asylum seekers with whom he shared his Melbourne hotel. Djokovic was also allowed to leave the country at will, unlike many of his lodgers. It was a draining experience, however. He had a remarkable but emotionally draining season. He came within one match to winning a Grand Slam and lost the U.S. Open final defeat to Daniil Medov. Alexander Zverev beat him at both the Olympics, and the ATP Finals.
According to transcripts provided by the federal court, he arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday night at midnight with the belief that all his papers, including his exemption from vaccination, were in order. He soon learned the truth.
Although it is unlikely that Djokovic (an outspoken skeptic about vaccines) will be confined again in any other country due to visa issues, the troubles in Melbourne indicate some of the headwinds that he could face in months ahead if his attempt to travel the globe without being vaccinated against Covid-19.
The patience of tennis officials and the patience of governments is running out. The pace and direction of the coronavirus pandemic, and its variants, are not known.
The Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells (Calif.) and Miami are the next major events, both of which start in March. Visitors must be fully vaccinated before they can travel to the United States by plane, unless they’re U.S. citizens, lawful permanent resident or are traveling on an immigrant visa. There are only a few exceptions and it is not clear whether Djokovic would apply for one, or even if he would want to try.
The French Open is the next Grand Slam tournament in the season, following the Australian Open. It starts in May and seems less problematic. Roxana Maracineanu (French sports minister) stated last week that Djokovic would be allowed into France to compete if she is not vaccinated due to the health protocols for major international sporting events in France.
Maracineanu also stressed that athletes, French or not, who are French citizens, would need to show proof they have been vaccinated in order to gain access to training facilities. This is a sign of how the mistral is blowing. While some professional leagues have left loopholes, gaps are closing for those who are not vaccinated.
Djokovic is among the few who have been vaccinated. He has long held unconventional views about science and adopted unorthodox approaches in his health care. Djokovic was detained by the ATP without any official support. This could not be because Djokovic is now leading a player group that has been critical about the ATP, but because the ATP has been pushing harder for its members to get vaccinated.
The tour will no more require vaccinated players to undergo additional testing once they arrive at tournaments in 2022, unless they develop symptoms. The tour will not pay for follow-up testing of unvaccinated players or team members.
Djokovic, who has made about $154million in career prize money and hundreds more millions off court, will not be affected by this. The tour rules emphasize that Djokovic is not the only one who has not been vaccinated.
The Australian authorities have hardly wrapped themselves in glory during L’Affaire Djokovic. There were mixed signals, conflicting memos, and other miscommunications between state and federal officials as well as Tennis Australia, which manages the Australian Open.
If there had been a united, coherent effort that sent a clear message about the grounds for medical exemptions from vaccination, Djokovic’s overnight interrogation and visa cancellation could have been avoided.
He would have probably not risked his trip to Australia if he understood that the federal government didn’t consider the recent Covid-19 case to be grounds to exempt him. Djokovic won the case in court on Monday. However, he has undoubtedly lost support at some chambers in the court of popular opinion. Despite being a martyr for the antivaccine movement and his countrymen, he is still a strong supporter of the exemption.
The Novak Djokovic Standoff With Australia
He is not a drama magnet just by chance. It is not a coincidence that he has had too many of these over the years. He could have avoided this one by opting to be vaccinated, but he exacerbated it by refusing for months to clarify his Australian Open plans.
It has been his signature Slam. This is where he has won nine of 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Djokovic believed that a positive Covid-19 test gave him grounds to a medical exemption from vaccination and the opportunity to win the Australian Open for the 10th time.
The problem is that, even though he submitted to the court a document confirming that Dec. 16 result was positive, he chose to be an isolator and took part in various public events, some of which involved children, in the days following.
It is up to you to explain why he went or stayed for the Australian Open. But he is not the only one who has to explain this messy, frustrating affair.
The uncertainty in Melbourne will continue, regardless of whether Djokovic leaves or stays, wins or losses. As he attempts to navigate a more vaccine-infected world and workplace, he faces many difficult choices.
Source: NY Times