Novak Djokovic can’t play the Australian Open, and he has no one but himself to blame

Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 men’s tennis player in the world, has won 20 Grand Slam tournaments — a record he shares with his fellow greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He had a perfect opportunity to separate himself from his rivals this month by winning a record 21st Slam at the Australian Open, where he has already been the champion nine times. But now that won’t happen. Djokovic has been deported from Australia — and, however much he might wail and rage, he has no one but himself to blame.

Unlike 97 percent of his peers on the men’s tennis tour, Djokovic refuses to be vaccinated because he is in thrall to wacky New Age ideas about health. But he tried to game the system so that he could play the Australian Open anyway. He claimed to be eligible for an exemption from the vaccination requirement to enter Australia because he had tested positive for the coronavirus on Dec. 16. How convenient. Was he planning to skip the Australian Open if he didn’t catch a potentially deadly disease the month before?

Der Spiegel journalists found his test-result certificate to be highly suspect. When they accessed the QR code on Monday afternoon the result came back negative. An hour later, the same QR code returned a positive result. Djokovic submitted a second, negative test result to show that he is no longer contagious — but Der Spiegel found evidence suggesting that the second test was actually conducted before the positive test. These certificates were generated in Serbia, where Djokovic is a national hero. It would not be hard to find cooperative physicians willing to provide any certificate he wanted.

So there is good reason to question whether Djokovic’s positive test result was genuine. If it was, that presents even more problems, because he was photographed in proximity with other people, without a mask, in the days following his supposed positive test. On Dec. 18, he did a photo shoot with a French sports magazine — and never informed the journalists that he had just tested positive.

So either Djokovic concocted a phony coronavirus test or he really did have covid-19 and recklessly endangered others. Neither possibility casts his character in a flattering light.

Djokovic nevertheless received an exemption from the state of Victoria that allowed him to travel to Australia — only to have his visa revoked by federal authorities on Jan. 6. He had to spend several days in a hotel that houses refugees before a judge ruled on Jan. 10 that, because of procedural irregularities, Djokovic should be released.

But, on Friday, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke canceled his visa again on grounds of “public interest.” Djokovic appealed the ruling, but a panel of three judges unanimously upheld the government decision. On Sunday — the eve of the tournament — he had to leave the country.

Djokovic greatly weakened his own case when he admitted to making a mistake on the immigration form. He attested that he had not traveled anywhere in the 14 days before his arrival in Melbourne, whereas he actually had visited Serbia and Spain. Djokovic blamed the error on his team, but it is his ultimate responsibility.

Now that Australia’s conservative government has deported “Novax” Djokovic, all I can say is, “Good on ya.” During the worst pandemic in a century, no exemption should be granted from public health laws for someone just because he happens to be supremely skilled at hitting a fuzzy yellow ball over a net.

Now the battle will shift to other countries that host major tennis tournaments — and in particular the three remaining Grand Slams. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has vowed to “piss” off the unvaccinated, yet his sports minister has said that Djokovic could play the French Open even while remaining unvaccinated. That’s not a good look.

Then there is the Wimbledon tournament. It is played in Britain, whose prime minister, Boris Johnson, is rapidly losing popularity because he violated lockdown rules, including by hosting a party at 10 Downing Street in May 2020. It would be an even worse look for Johnson to offer Djokovic a pass to enter the U.K. — at least not without the required 10-day quarantine for unvaccinated arrivals.

Finally there’s the United States — host not only of the U.S. Open starting in August but also of major tournaments in March at Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami. Most travelers to the United States need to produce proof of vaccination. There are only a few exceptions allowed, including people “whose entry would be in the national interest.” I hope the Biden administration will show the same determination as Scott Morrison’s government in Australia in refusing to apply a double-standard for a double-faulting tennis star.

If Djokovic wants to continue playing tennis, he needs to get vaccinated — and stop trying to circumvent the pandemic requirements that apply to everyone else. He needs to decide if he is going to be the No. 1 men’s tennis player in the world or the No. 1 anti-vaxxer. He can’t be both. Djokovic may be the most skilled men’s player in tennis history, but his covid misconduct shows that true greatness still eludes him.

Max Boot is a Washington Post columnist, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of “The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.”

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