He may be the best tennis player in the world, but he’s definitely not the world’s smartest. For Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open represented a lot more than just another tennis match. It was his chance to claim the world championship by winning a record 21st Grand Slam – and edging out fellow tennis greats Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, each of whom were locked in a three-way tie with him at 20 Grand Slams. While walking away with about $4 million in prize money.
And what did Djokovic do? He blew it. He threw the whole thing away by acting like a two-year old and refusing to get a shot in his arm. Seriously, what was he thinking?
His ultimate deportation from Australia shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Djokovic, or anyone else. As early as April 2020, in the very early days of the pandemic, he declared on a Facebook post that he was “opposed to vaccination” and “wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel.”
In fact, in Serbia, Djokovic has a reputation for making bizarre statements. In a Spring 2020 Instagram chat, he asserted that mind power alone could purify water. “I know some people that, through energetical transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, they managed to turn the most toxic food, or maybe the most polluted water, into the most healing water.” Which ranks right up there with Donald Trump’s suggestion of “ingesting bleach” as a cure for COVID-19.
But, in the end, it wasn’t just his stubborn refusal to get vaccinated that brought Djokovic down, it was the constant stream of lies he told about his own bout with COVID and his irresponsible behavior after he’d tested positive. In December 2021, after attending a basketball tournament that turned out to be a superspreader event, Djokovic took a PCR test. But before getting results back, he hosted a children’s tennis event at which he shook hands and posed for photographs. And later that day, even after learning he’d tested positive, Djokovic sat down for an interview with a French television crew.
Later that month, in documentation for the Australian Open, he said he hadn’t traveled in the 14 days prior to his flight to Australia – when, in fact, he had traveled to Spain during that time.
It’s also not surprising that, Trump-like, Djokovic supporters painted him as the victim of a political witch-hunt. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Djokovic knew what the rules were. But he flouted them. He thought his worldwide celebrity would earn him a pass. He lied. He broke the rules. And he got caught. Seventy-one percent of Australians agreed with the government’s decision to deport him: which was the right ruling, not just for Australia, but for the entire world.
Imagine the message, had Australia caved in: public health’s not that important; vaccinations don’t really matter; wearing a mask, getting vaccinated, and social distancing is only for the common people; if you’re rich and famous enough, you can simply ignore it all and get away with it. Fortunately, Australia sent just the opposite message: We’re all in this together and we all have to follow the same rules.
The good news is that the Djokovic circus is finally behind us. Now we can forget about the spoiled brat tennis star and focus on what really matters: finding an N-95 mask, getting boosted, getting our kids back in school, and finally putting this damned Omicron behind us.
Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”