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'More important than any title' – Djokovic prepared to miss more grand slams over vaccination stance

Belgrade, February 15: Novak Djokovic has said missing grand slams including the French Open and Wimbledon will be "the price I am willing to pay" for resisting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Last month, the world number one and 20-time grand slam winner was deported from Australia on the eve of the Australian Open after his entry visa to the country was cancelled.

That stemmed from Djokovic refusing to join the overwhelming majority of fellow tennis stars in being vaccinated against coronavirus, and amid controversy over how he handled getting the virus himself in December.

In a new interview with the BBC, Djokovic said he was prioritising his right to choose what to put into his body above his sporting ambitions.

The 34-year-old Serbian declared his stance is likely to keep him sidelined for "most of the tournaments" at present.

Djokovic is set to make his return to the court at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships later this month, with vaccination not a requirement. He has been included on the entry list for next month's Indian Wells Open, but that is a tournament he may have to sit out.

He confirmed in the BBC interview that he has still yet to be vaccinated, though did not entirely rule out the prospect in the future.

"I have not," he said. "I understand and support fully the freedom to choose whether you want to get vaccinated or not."

Prior to entering Australia, where he was obliged to confirm his status, it was only widely assumed that Djokovic had not been inoculated.

Now he is keen to "speak up ... and justify certain things", adding: "So I was never against vaccination. I understand that globally everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing hopefully an end soon to this virus.

"And vaccinations are probably the biggest effort that was made on behalf of the planet. I fully respect that, but I've always represented and always supported the freedom to choose what you put into your body. For me that is essential. It's really the principle of understanding what is right and what is wrong for you.

"And me, as an elite professional athlete, I've always carefully reviewed and assessed everything that comes in, from the supplements, food, the water that I drink or sports drinks. Anything really that comes into my body as a fuel.

"Based on all the information that I got, I decided not to take the vaccine as of today. I keep my mind open because we are all trying to find collectively a best possible solution to end COVID. Nobody really wants to be in this kind of situation that we've been in collectively for two years."

Djokovic is the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champion and, after Rafael Nadal's Australian Open triumph, he has been bumped down to joint second on the all-time men's grand slam list. Missing majors at this stage of his career could be a crushing blow to Djokovic's hopes of finishing top of that pile.

"I'm part of a very global sport that is played every single week in a different location, so I understand the consequences of my decision, and one of the consequences of my decision was not going to Australia, and I was prepared not to go," Djokovic said.

"I understand that not being vaccinated today I am unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment. That is the price I am willing to pay."

He looked to disassociate himself from the anti-vax community by saying he had "never said I am part of that movement" and declaring that was a "wrong conclusion" to draw.

At the same time, Djokovic concurred when asked if he was willing to sacrifice the chance to be seen as the greatest player of all time, and to travel to Roland Garros and the All England Club this year.

"Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I'm trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can," Djokovic said.

"I say that everyone has a right to choose to act or say whatever they feel is appropriate for them."

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Story first published: Tuesday, February 15, 2022, 14:40 [IST]
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