Novak Djokovic expressed his disappointment at being declared the “bad guy of the world” in an emotional TV interview about his deportation from Australia 12 months ago.
Speaking to Channel Nine, the host broadcaster of the Australian Open, Djokovic complained last year that he was treated unfairly and accused the media of presenting his case in a “completely wrong way”.
If you’ve followed the story at the time – and most people were – you’ll probably remember that Djokovic refused the Covid vaccine, which is essential for all players traveling to Melbourne for the tournament.
He applied for an exemption on the grounds that he had recently contracted the virus. After a 10-hour ordeal at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport, he was initially allowed into the country, only for the federal government to intervene and send him home. According to then immigration minister Alex Hawke, his presence in Melbourne had the potential to create a focus for anti-vaccine sentiment.
“There were two or three other people who came to Australia ten days before me with the exact exemption I had,” Djokovic told Channel Nine. “I was just following the rules. My exemption was verified by an independent agency and a board of doctors… and I came with all valid documents.
“Everything got out of control and then I was labeled this or that. It was so big in the media that I couldn’t fight it, I didn’t even want to get into it. I clearly wanted to stay here and play tennis, but at some point with the amount of madness going around, I wanted to get out and come back home. “
The saga surrounding Djokovic lasted almost two weeks before he was finally deported. To the dismay of his peers, his hotly debated case has become a much bigger deal than the Australian Open itself.
Eventually though, the tournament regained its dominance over the broader tennis narrative. A spectacular final weekend featuring Rafael Nadal’s stunning comeback victory and Ashleigh Barty’s first home grand slam title meant the show could go on without him.
Djokovic’s own wounds took much longer to heal. As he told Kanal Nine: “I stayed at home for a few weeks, not walking around much. I hoped the situation would calm down which it did, but the scars remained.
“The scars continued after a few months and I didn’t know if it would affect my game and the way I played. It wasn’t easy for me to mentally pack up and start over. At every press conference I was asked at least. A question or two about Australia and what happened… Even if I wanted to continue, people it reminded me of that.
“It’s still unfortunate and it hurts me that most of the people have the wrong idea about what happened. The media has been making fun of me for a few months now and not on a positive note, so this has caused a lot of inconvenience to the brand and to me personally and the people around me.
Injury scare at Australian Open for Djokovic
Djokovic’s self-justification is more glossed over the fact that almost every player chooses to avoid the vaccine while qualifying themselves for the vaccine. As he told the BBC after the storm of exile, missing major tournaments because of his medical philosophy was “the price I was prepared to pay”.
It was perhaps luck for Djokovic that the liberal government was ousted by the Australian people in May. Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party took over, and Hawke’s successor as immigration minister, Andrew Giles, revoked Djokovic’s three-year visa ban (an automatic penalty for anyone deported from Australia).
Giles’ decision, which was officially announced in November, made Djokovic an instant runaway favorite to secure an unprecedented 10th title at Rod Laver Arena. His results since last spring – 40 wins and just four losses – show he’s playing the best tennis of his life.
Admittedly, Djokovic had some of his ardent fans a little worried on Wednesday. He took a break from his training match with Daniil Medvedev after one set – which he lost 6-3 – after he knocked the coach out three times to look at his left knee.
Still, the fact that Djokovic played four more games (losing them all) after the initial evaluation shows that this is more of a small chuckle than anything to worry about. If the insertion had done any significant harm, he would certainly have left the court immediately. As it stands, we can expect him to return to Rod Laver Arena for another practice match on Thursday – a repeat of the final against Australian ragtag Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon last summer.