It is often reported that Novak Djokovic wishes he was more well-liked. It’s hard to blame him really.
He probably wonders what more he has to do to win the hearts and minds of the global tennis community.
Yet, he still remains a pariah; and nowhere more so than in Australia.
For all his success, he is the subject of an extraordinary amount of negative press.
And this week is no exception.
Currently, most tennis related news has centred around the vaccination requirements for players at the Australian Open.
That, in and of itself, is understandable.
Approximately 25-30% of both the men’s and women’s tours remain unvaccinated. This statistic has been reported ad nauseam and is the source of much criticism directed to the sport.
However, come the end of the year, those percentages are likely to decrease substantially to something more reflective of global vaccination trends. After all, how many AFL players were vaccinated mid-season?
In any event, we’re still talking about a small minority of players.
On the other side of the fence, the Victorian public has endured more than we’d like to admit and the idea of unvaccinated players entering the country (or receiving “special treatment”) leaves a bitter taste for many.
On that note, you’d think most of the news coverage this week would contain reasoned discussion around the need to ensure that all rules are fair and equal to the tennis playing group to protect themselves and the Australian public, whilst also ensuring the Australian Open remains a world-class event.
Yet, as is the Australian way, most of the news cycle reads as a debate (read: fight) between Djokovic – depicted as the face of tennis’ apparent anti-vaccination issue – and the Australian public.
For instance, a quick look at recent tennis related articles published by some of Australia’s largest news outlets such as The Australian, The Age, The Herald Sun, and Fox Sports reads like this: Novak is trying to circumvent vaccination requirements to put Australian lives at risk while chasing grand slam glory. How dare he defy us! More specifically, there have been a number of articles like that of Peter FitzSimons’ piece in The Sydney Morning Herald (and The Age) last week that essentially read as a personal attack on Djokovic.
FitzSimons’ decided to run the argument of ‘well how would you like it if I brought measles to Serbia’ in an attempt to demonise Djokovic. How mature.
Channel 7 and Channel 9 have also run opening news pieces that attempt to pit Djokovic against the Andrews Government in a battle of the titans.
In short, the Australian media is detailing an argument that is not being had and their frustrations are misdirected.
So what, in fact, has Djokovic actually said about all this?
Well, not much.
In an interview with Serbian newspaper Blic, Djokovic said “things being as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne”.
That interview was around 10 days ago. At which point we did not know what would be happening for the Australian Open and we did not know that at 90% double dose vaccination, that we’d be “free”.
Keep in mind that for the better part of the last 18 months Victoria has been a highly undesirable place to be. So this quote is, at the least, fair enough.
He also refused to reveal his “vaccination status” as it is a “private matter”. This quote has been repeatedly used to paint the Serbian as a villain.
What has not been reported locally is that he also said the following in his next breath: “It is a private matter and according to our law, whoever asks you, you can in some way charge him for asking you. That is an immoderate question," Djokovic told Blic.
"Too many people today allow themselves such freedom to ask things and condemn a person. Whatever you answer: "Yes, I didn't, maybe, I don't know, I'm thinking!" they will abuse it. “The media has become…I have no word how to describe it. It spreads fear and panic among people and I don’t want to participate in that rift. I feel that everyone is hostile. I don’t want to give them a reason to write some things about me. “Now what I told you, one of your editors can take and make a scandal out of it. I don't want to take part in any storm that is happening right now."
What he is saying is “I can’t win” – either way, he is painted as the villain. And he’s right. We have made a scandal out of this. For no good reason.
In truth, he may well be vaccinated. We don’t know, but we will soon. Earlier this year, the Serbian also received a barrage of criticism for questioning the morality of mandating vaccination upon those who do not wish to receive it. Again, that’s fair enough. Mandating anything is always worthy of a discussion. That’s why we have a parliament.
Moreover, many suggest that Novak is attempting to weasel his way into Australia under special exemptions and put Australian lives at risk as an unvaccinated individual. This could not be further from the truth.
Rather, Djokovic has stated that he will evaluate whether the playing conditions he is subject to are worthy of the trip down under. If they are not, in his eyes, suitable, he won’t come.
If they are, then he will.
And if we the public don’t like the rules that allow for Djokovic to enter the country and play, then that issue is to be taken up with our politicians and Tennis Australia.
He doesn’t make the rules. He is not our enemy.
The point here is that the media coverage of Djokovic has been laughable.
Additionally, he’s not alone in his situation. Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Thiem, and Zverev are all either unvaccinated or refusing to reveal their “vaccination status”.
Yet it is Djokovic who has become the face of this “debate”.
Now, for the safety of everyone involved, this author would prefer that all players receive a vaccination quick smart.
But this anti-Djokovic campaign reads like an argument you have in your head where your adversary is not listening or partaking. It’s circle work.
This obsession with ostracising Djokovic has gone too far. If nothing else, it's lazy journalism and clickbait.
If he comes to play, then that’s great. And in doing so, he (like every other player on tour) will do so under the rules set out by our governments and Tennis Australia.
If he doesn’t, well that’s his loss.
Listen to The First Serve with Brett Phillips each Monday at 8pm AEDT on 1116AM SEN Melbourne, 1629AM SEN SA / 1170am Sydney or listen live and catch up on the SEN App.
Do solar panels work in winter? Solar energy output in Australia throughout winter is surprisingly high in some cities. You can learn more about better solar energy at B Solar. Talk with a B.Solar Advisor. Search for B Solar or visit b.solar to learn more.