Novak Djokovic has maintained a tense silence ever since his visa fiasco in Australia earlier last month, which resulted in him being deported from the country. But the World No. 1 put an end to it today by speaking candidly in an exclusive interview with the BBC.
In the interview, the Serb claimed that he would much rather miss out on the chance to add more titles to his name than compromise his principles and be forced to get he COVID-19 vaccine.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion stated that his only desire was to remain "in tune" with his body in as natural a manner as he possibly could. At the same time, he remained adamant that he had never endorsed any anti-vaccination rhetoric in the past, nor would he do so in the future.
"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 was never against vaccination, but I've always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body."
Djokovic may even have to sit out the upcoming Majors, and in the process miss the chance to overtake Rafael Nadal in the Slam race and enter the history books. But the prospect of missing out on history was not enough to dissuade the World No. 1 on his stance, as he remarked that he was "willing to pay the price" for sticking to his guns.
"Would I [sacrifice taking part in competitions such as Wimbledon and the French Open over my stance on the vaccine?] Yes, that is the price that I'm willing to pay," he said.
Novak Djokovic also spoke at length about the COVID-19 test he took on December 16. The positive result from that test was the basis on which he was granted a medical exemption to play at the 2022 Australian Open in the first place. But the veracity of the test was questioned by many, claiming it was too convenient for him to test positive just in time to secure entry at Melbourne Park.
The Serb pushed back on the criticism, asserting that he took the pandemic "very seriously" and that he would never stoop to the level of "misusing" a test result to hoodwink the concerned authorities.
"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 [that I got COVID before the Australian Open]. But no-one is lucky and convenient to get COVID 19."
Millions of people have struggled 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 favour, in order to get a positive PCR test and eventually go to Australia," he said.
"I was really sad and disappointed with the way it all ended for me in Australia; it wasn't easy" - Novak Djokovic
During the interview, Novak Djokovic also shed light on the mistakes made on his visa application form. The Serb doubled down on his claims that an incorrect box on the form was ticked by a member of his team by mistake. He also stressed that it was not the reason for his deportation. He said that everything else was done in strict accordance with the rules laid down by Australian government officials as well as the Federal Court of Australia.
"The visa declaration error was not deliberately made. What people probably don't know is that I was not deported from Australia on the basis that I was not vaccinated or that I broke any rules or that I made an error in my visa declaration," Djokovic said. "All of that was actually approved and validated by the Federal Court of Australia and the Minister for Immigration."
Despite that, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke ultimately canceled the Serb's visa, saying it was "in the public interest to do so." Hawke justified the move based on speculation that letting Djokovic into the country would be seen as a victory for the anti-vaxxers.
But the World No. 1 disagreed profoundly with that statement, and added that he was deeply disheartened by the way things ended up for him in Australia.
"The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the Minister for Immigration used his discretion to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with," he said. "I was really sad and disappointed with the way it all ended for me in Australia. It wasn't easy."