Wimbledon 2021

Novak Djokovic is still living in 2020

By Sharada Iyer, Tennis With An Accent


Right before 2022 began, a meme started making the rounds on social media. “Remember,” it said, “2022’s called 2020, too.”

Barely two weeks into what’s now a not-so-new-year, Novak Djokovic seemed to be keen on making everyone relive this meme while trying to enact it on a more elaborate basis. However, regardless of what Djokovic might have wanted to believe or how it might have seemed to him, the situation in 2022 is completely dissimilar to what it was back in 2020. Because it is the case, it’s impossible to condone or shrug aside his decisions as tennis – and the rest of the world with its limited awareness – had done after his ill-fated exhibition, the Adria Tour, in 2020.

On the face of it, yes, not much has changed for the world. There was a COVID-19 pandemic raging in 2020 and it’s still raging – one forgets which wave of the pandemic one is currently surfing – while the coronavirus mutates into variants that have Greek alphabets as sobriquets.

Yet, unlike 2020, the world has learned to live in parallel with COVID-19 and its fast-mutating variants. People have learned to cope with the symptoms, to navigate the peaks and falls of the virus’s waves, and most importantly, to adjust to this new reality. Adjusting to this new reality has also meant understanding and accepting the hastened discovery of vaccines that have been put to widespread use to help mankind survive this crisis, whose origins remain confounding and elusive.

Vaccines, then, are the axle around which the wheel of Djokovic’s saga revolves. It’s about how one man’s abject adamance to not get vaccinated against COVID-19 put him at the crossroads of his personal choices and professional commitments, with the Australian government – the ministerial and judicial authorities of the country that hosts the year’s first big event on the tennis calendar – eventually intervening and making a call on whether he deserved to remain in the country or get ousted.

As in the refrain, “If my aunt had a moustache, she would’ve been my uncle,” Djokovic’s repeated failures to get his visa unrevoked and stay in Australia in an attempt to win his 21st major and his 10th Australian Open wouldn’t have occurred in the first place had he gotten vaccinated. That point is clear no matter what other debates one can pursue in this larger theatre of events and complications.

The Serbian – and his acolytes – might have thought that the decision to vaccinate was being imposed upon him. However, within this framework of necessity, Djokovic had several choices he could’ve gone for – from Pfizer to Moderna to AstraZeneca, and even to Johnson & Johnson. But in trying to circumvent the rules – the exemption about which he gushed on social media – Djokovic set a precedent that didn’t bode well, not only for the Australians as a country, but also for the world community at large.

Djokovic’s legal haste in attempting to get the Australian judiciary make a decision in his favour while highlighting the privilege he held – even as his parents, several of his colleagues, his fans, and even a certain group of journalists said he was being treated unfairly – also showed that the system wasn’t the same for everyone.

The refugees and immigrants who had been detained in Australia continued – and still continue – to languish while the world’s best tennis player’s legal representatives came up with quickfire defence moves to extricate him out of detention and then from facing deportation. As everyone waited to find out about the status of his visa over the course of the two weeks he landed in Melbourne – on  January 6, 2022 – it was also felt by some how the country’s laws and rules stood to be bypassed without much ado, because of one man’s clout in his profession.

From the global perspective, Djokovic’s decision to enter a country where the rule of the land stated vaccination was the norm for entry displayed an abject scarcity of respect for the scientific community and a blatant disregard – all over again – for science-based considerations.

There’s a two-way scramble here: Medical communities are urging that countries ensure that their (eligible) populace get the barest minimum of two doses of the vaccine, and in light of the mutating waves, make sure that the people receive booster doses as promptly as possible. Djokovic’s contrary stance towards taking the COVID-19 vaccine is an emotional and mental fight the world can’t afford to take on at this point. It shouldn’t have to, at least, because in the two years of the pandemic’s continuance, people have forfeited a lot; many have had their lives and livelihoods upended because of it.

Meanwhile, Djokovic, through his thorough non-compliance with rules – his receiving the visa and the exemption he received from Tennis Australia remain questions for power brokers to answer – has proved he hasn’t seemed to have grasped the severity of the pandemic. That he was only willing to see testing positive for COVID-19 (in December) as a bargaining chip to play in a foreign land to further his career, while meeting and greeting people unmasked in his native Serbia, is ample proof of this unvarnished reality. In that sense, Novak Djokovic is embarrassingly living – not reliving – his 2022 as he had lived in 2020.

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