Father: Novak Djokovic ‘Probably Won’t’ Play Australian Open over Vaccine ‘Blackmail’

Novak Djokovic of Serbia poses with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup following victory in his Men's Singles Final match against Rafael Nadal of Spain during day 14 of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Srdjan Djokovic, father of world tennis number one Novak Djokovic, said on television Sunday that his son “probably won’t” play in the Australian Open in January due to the implementation of a coronavirus vaccine mandate, which he called “blackmail.”

Djokovic is the top-ranked player on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour and has held that ranking for more time than anyone else in history. He has also won more Australian Open tournaments than anyone else, taking home the trophy nine times. He has won 20 Grand Slam tournament titles – more than anyone else except for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who both also have 20 titles.

Djokovic’s absence at the Australian Open would have some sentimental significance as it was the first Grand Slam that he won in 2008 and he has called it his “favorite tournament.”

Srdjan Djokovic made the remarks during an interview on a morning program on TV Prva in the family’s native Serbia.

“As far as vaccines and non-vaccines [sic] are concerned, it is the personal right of each of us whether we will be vaccinated or not. No one has the right to enter into our intimacy, it is guaranteed by the constitution,” the elder Djokovic said, according to a translation by the Serbian state-affiliated news site B92. “Everyone has the right to decide on their health. Whether he is vaccinated or not, that is his exclusive right. Will he publish it, I don’t think so. I don’t know that decision either, and if I did, I wouldn’t share it with you.”

Srdjan Djokovic said his son would want to go to the tournament “with all his heart … and we would love that, too.”

“Under these blackmails and conditions, he probably won’t,” he concluded. “I wouldn’t do that. And he’s my son, so you decide for yourself.”

Djokovic’s presence at the tournament became widely considered uncertain since organizers asserted they would demand all players show proof of vaccination before entering. Djokovic has refused to answer anyone asking if he has received a Chinese coronavirus vaccine. He tested positive for Chinese coronavirus last year while participating in an unofficial tennis tournament, the Adria Tour, that he personally organized amid global coronavirus lockdowns.

A study published in the science magazine Nature in July 2021 found that individuals who have been infected with the virus possess some level of resistance to it in the future, though to what extent those recovered are immune to a second infection, particularly in light of the discovery of significantly mutated coronavirus variants, has remained a point of contention in the scientific community.

Asked about the Australian Open last week, Novak Djokovic only responded, “we’ll see.”

“The freedom of choice is essential for everyone, whether it’s me or somebody else,” he said on a separate occasion last week. “Doesn’t really matter whether it’s vaccination or anything else in life. You should have the freedom to choose – in this particular case, what you want to put in your body.”

While Djokovic has not specified if he has received doses of any approved coronavirus vaccine product, he openly stated he did not want a vaccine against coronavirus in 2020, prior to their availability.

“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination,” Djokovic said on Facebook in April 2020. “I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel.”

“But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision. I have my own thoughts about the matter, and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know,” he continued.

Pressed on the issue following that statement, Djokovic asserted, “I have expressed my views because I have the right to and I also feel responsible to highlight certain essential topics that are concerning the tennis world.”

Following those remarks, and in an apparently show of defiance against the ATP Tour for canceling several high-profile tournaments, Djokovic founded what he called the Adria Tour, a small Eastern European tournament with little-to-no coronavirus precautionary measures. The Adria Tour ended preemptively when several of the major players participating, including Djokovic, tested positive for coronavirus, resulting in widespread condemnation.

“I can only see criticism lately and much of it is malicious,” Djokovic told Serbian media at the time. “It’s obviously more than just criticism, it’s like an agenda and a witch hunt are on. Someone has to take the fall, a big name.”

Djokovic has won the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon since the ill-fated Adria Tour.

Craig Tilley, the CEO of Tennis Australia, almost immediately began fielding questions about Djokovic upon announcing a vaccine mandate for the Australian Open. He addressed the situation on Australian television on Monday in response to the younger Djokovic’s “we’ll see” comments – not the elder’s about “blackmail.”

“This has been a bone of contention all the way through but when the premier announced that anyone coming into Victoria and playing at Melbourne Park will need to be vaccinated, that included the fans as well as the staff and also for the players,” Tilley said, predicting “close to 90 percent” compliance from players.

Tilley claimed that “everyone understands it” and the vaccine mandate has “been well received.”

“[W]e’ve contributed to more players getting vaccinated because we’re the first event that’s required mandatory vaccinations,” Tilley asserted.

Tilley also specifically stated Djokovic would have to show proof of vaccination to attend and would not receive an exception based on his prior coronavirus-positive status or his ranking as top men’s player in the world.

Djokovic’s absence will leave only Nadal of the three most awarded players in history in the Australian Open, as Federer is recovering from knee surgery. Their absence leaves open the opportunity for a younger generation of players to make it to the final after nearly two decades of dominance by the three.

Australia has enacted some of the most severe Chinese coronavirus restrictions in the world, including provisions such as the use of soldiers to trap people indoors, which have attracted the concern of global human rights activists. Australia deployed hundreds of soldiers last summer to enforce a ban on people leaving their homes. Australian officials have used disproportionate violence on occasion to quell the protests, including one incident in which police pepper-sprayed an elderly woman in the face.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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