Novak Djokovic, the world No 1 ranked men’s player, has reiterated his stand about freedom of choice over taking the Covid-19 vaccine as suspense grows over his participation at the Australian Open in January.
Serbian Djokovic has repeatedly declined to disclose his vaccination status and said last month that he was unsure if he would defend his title at Melbourne Park, ‘things being as they are’.
Government officials of the state of Victoria, where the major takes place in Melbourne, have said unvaccinated players will be barred from the tournament.
Tennis maverick Nick Kyrgios said on his podcast this week that he was ‘double-vaxxed’ but did not think it was right to force anyone, let alone athletes, to get vaccinated.
Responding to the comments from Kyrgios, who has criticised Djokovic on numerous occasions in the past for various reasons, the Serbian said: ‘That was unexpected knowing what was coming from him towards me in the last couple of years.
Novak Djokovic has reiterated his stand about freedom of choice over taking Covid-19 vaccine
World No 1 may not be able to defend his 2021 Australian Open crown due to Covid restrictions
‘But this time I must agree with him that the freedom of choice is essential for everyone, whether it’s me or somebody else,’ the 34-year-old told reporters in Turin, Italy, where he is competing at the season-ending ATP Finals.
‘Doesn’t really matter whether it’s vaccination or anything else in life. You should have the freedom to choose, to decide what you want to do. In this particular case, what you want to put in your body.’
Melbourne has had the most cumulative days locked down of any Australian city since the coronavirus pandemic began. Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said he would not apply for permits to allow unvaccinated athletes to enter the country.
‘I have been always a proponent of that and always a supporter of freedom of choice, and I will be always supporting that because freedom is essential for I’d say a happy and prosperous life,’ added Djokovic, who has won 20 major singles titles including a record nine Australian Open crowns.
Kyrgios, 26, originally leapt to the defence of rival Djokovic, but the tennis star later took to Instagram to clarify his stance, claiming some of his comments on the podcast were ‘taken out of context’.
He then also completely reversed his position on unvaccinated tennis stars coming from overseas to compete – saying they shouldn’t be allowed to enter Australia.
‘Tennis has been a big part of my life for 15 years plus and I’ve given myself a lot of sacrifice every single day to this sport and I love it,’ Kyrgios explained to his 1.7 million Instagram followers.
‘To say I want the Australian Open cancelled, I think that was the sentence that got taken out of context.
‘It’s more so for the people of Melbourne, who have gone through hell and back. I think it’s been nearly 300 days of lockdown and your freedom has been taken away from you.’
‘I don’t think it’s morally right to accept players from overseas that aren’t vaccinated to come into our country.’
Kyrgios’s backflip came after he was slammed by Victorian sports minister Martin Pakula for calling for the event to be scrapped.
Tennis maverick Nick Kyrgios said on his podcast this week that he was ‘double-vaxxed’
During the last Australian Open in February, Melbourne was plunged into a snap five day lockdown. The grand slam continued behind closed doors.
Kyrgios, who is fully vaccinated, said he believed Djokovic should be able to compete regardless of his vaccination status.
He also referenced US basketball star Kyrie Irving, who has missed the start of NBA season due to his refusal to get the jab.
Kyrgios has previously been critical of Djokovic’s antics on the tennis circuit during the pandemic.
In 2021 he called the Serbian a ‘tool’ for demanding eased hotel quarantine conditions for tennis players isolating ahead of the Australian Open.
But Kyrgios changed his stance during his chat with his two best friends.
‘Kyrie, Novak… These guys have given so much, sacrificed so much. They are global athletes who millions of people look up to,’ Kyrgios said.
‘I just think it is so morally wrong to force someone to be vaccinated.
‘I’m double vaccinated, but I just don’t think it’s right to force anyone (to be vaccinated) and say “you can’t come and play here because you’re not vaccinated.”
‘There are other solutions around it, (such as) to get tested every day. In the States I know they’ve got rapid tests, and it’s coming to Australia. It’s 85 per cent success rate, you wait 15 minutes and then you’re allowed to play.’