In his first interview since being deported from Australia last month, Novak Djokovic reiterated his stance on not getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and said he would opt out of playing in future majors that would require him to get inoculated.
“Yes, that is the price that I’m willing to pay,” Djokovic told the BBC in a story published early Tuesday morning.
Djokovic, the No. 1 player in the world, was at the center of a global media firestorm and an international legal battle in January after receiving a medical exemption to play in the Australian Open and then having his visa revoked by the Australian government. Ultimately, he was forced to leave the country and was unable to defend his title at the year’s first Grand Slam.
Djokovic, 34, told the BBC he isn’t against vaccinations — “I have never said that I am part of that movement,” he noted — but believes in personal choice. He said that is more important than potentially winning his 21st major trophy.
“Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” Djokovic said.
“I’m trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can,” he said, adding that he has always been careful about everything he ingests. “Based on all the information that I got, I decided not to take the vaccine, as of today.”
Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open title in Djokovic’s absence and broke the tie he held with Djokovic and Roger Federer for most major titles by a male player.
In his documentation for a medical exemption, Djokovic had claimed to have had the virus in December, but the timeline of infection raised suspicions. He addressed the doubts toward his claims in the interview.
“I understand that there is a lot of criticism, and I understand that people come out with different theories on how lucky I was or how convenient it is,” Djokovic said. “But no one is lucky and convenient of getting COVID. Millions of people have and are still struggling with COVID around the world. So I take this very seriously. I really don’t like someone thinking I’ve misused something or in my own favor, in order to, you know, get a positive PCR test and eventually go to Australia.”
Djokovic said he was “really sad and disappointed” about the way his time in Melbourne ended.
He is next expected to play at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, in March.
Djokovic’s status for the French Open, set to begin May 22, remains unclear. Vaccination rules in France could change in the months before Roland Garros, possibly allowing him to play. The country has started to ease some of its health and travel restrictions as it recovers from a record surge in infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.
The French government last week gave an end-of-March/beginning-of-April time frame for the possible lifting of its vaccine requirement that, at the moment, puts unvaccinated players at risk of missing the French Open.
From Tuesday, anyone who is not vaccinated against the coronavirus will need to show proof they tested positive for COVID-19 within the previous four months — down from the previous six-month window — in order to enter sports venues in France. The French law, which operates under the assumption that you have some protection from the virus if you’ve recently had it, aims to bar unvaccinated individuals from stadiums, restaurants, bars, and other public places.
Djokovic has previously said that he tested positive in mid-December. If the four-month requirement stays in force, it is likely to rule him out of the French Open unless he gets vaccinated or tests positive again.
Djokovic is also the defending champion at Wimbledon, which will begin in late June. But so far, England has allowed exemptions from various coronavirus regulations for visiting athletes, if they remain at their accommodations when not competing or training.
The United States Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, has said it will follow government rules on vaccination status.