Novak Djokovic comment: Former world No 1 let himself and ATP Tour down over Indian Wells fiasco

Novak Djokovic looking on

“I understand not being vaccinated, I’m unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment … and that is the price I’m willing to pay.”

The words of Novak Djokovic as he belatedly broke his silence on the story that rocked the sporting world in January as he appeared to draw a line under one key aspect of his refusal to join the overwhelming majority of his colleagues on the ATP Tour and getting vaccinated a Covid-19.

Djokovic’s interview with the BBC last month cemented his status as one of the world’s most prominent Covid vaccine opponents, but it should also have ended the debate over his hopes of playing in America this month.

Yet when the first test of his statement that he is willing to skip big tournaments was presented at this week’s Indian Wells Masters, Djokovic embarked on a bizarre effort to get into America despite clear regulations stating he could not enter the country due to his vaccine status.

Rumours started circulating on Monday that Djokovic was going back on his vow to miss tournaments he was not allowed to enter due to his vaccine stance as he looked for a route to get into America for the Indian Wells and Miami Masters.

Even though current US regulations state that unvaccinated visitors are not allowed to enter America, Djokovic refused to withdraw from the Indian Wells event and forced tournament officials to issues a statement moments before the draw was made confirming the former world No 1 was still on their entry list.

That meant the draw took place with Djokovic as the second seed, denying Joao Sousa entry to the tournament and forcing him to play the qualifying event instead.

Then, far later than he should have done, Djokovic finally confirmed late on Wednesday that he had given up on his efforts to get into America, as he finally accepted the inevitable consequences of his decision to avoid following vaccine guidelines.

Why did he put himself back at the heart of another visa battle after his painful experience in Australia in January? Only Djokovic can answer that question and once again as he is writing scripts that make little sense.

Whether you agree with his stance or not, Djokovic has every right to refuse a vaccine against Covid-19 and equally, he understand his decision comes with consequences.

The first of those was that he would not be allowed to play tournaments in areas where vaccine passports are required, with America currently on that list.

So Djokovic should have pulled out of Indian Wells long before the draw was made, with his determination to cling on in the hope of a change in travel rules destabilising a tournament that leaves Andrey Rublev as the highest seed in the bottom half of the draw.

Now this question needs to be asked; why did Djokovic take this stance after confirming he was ready to miss big tournaments over his vaccine status?

If Djokovic was true to his word and as authentic as he wants people to believe he is, the 20-time Grand Slam champion would have pulled out of this event long before the draw was made and allowed players who have opted to follow the rules for this event to participate in the event.

Instead, he followed a path that allowed the perception to build that Djokovic’s motivation was to try and put himself at the centre of the story once again rather than one of the great events in our sport.

The relentlessly aggressive army of Djokovic fans who use Twitter as a vehicle to show their support for their idol will back him all the way on this latest attempt to play in an event he was not allowed to compete In, but this was a sideshow he needed need to be part of.

While Djokovic does not need to explain to anyone why he has decided against being vaccinated against a virus that is, thankfully, losing some of its potency, this latest soap opera could and should have been avoided.

Clearly, Djokovic should have been true to his word and accepted that his position on vaccines meant he would have to wait until Monte Carlo in April to play his next event.

Instead, this icon of our sport put his own interest ahead of the rest of the ATP Tour as he created another story that produced no winners once again.