A prolonged spell on Britain’s grass courts this summer could be one upshot of Novak Djokovic’s declaration that he is likely to remain unjabbed against Covid.
The 34-year-old Serb made clear that he is prepared to sacrifice more Grand Slam titles if that is what it takes to retain complete autonomy over his vaccination status.
‘That is the price that I’m willing to pay,’ stated the world No 1 in a BBC interview, his first since being turfed out of Australia last month. ‘Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else.’
With the UK taking a more relaxed stance on regulations around unvaccinated individuals, it could well be that Wimbledon will be the next Slam he will participate in.
Not only that, but, with his appearance at the French Open in doubt, he might find it tempting to give himself a proper warm-up by making only his second visit to Queen’s in 12 years for the Cinch Championships.
Wimbledon reiterated a ‘no comment’ stance on access for the tiny number of unjabbed players left.
With American refusenik Tennys Sandgren having now dropped out of it, Djokovic is the only member of the men’s top 100 still unvaccinated.
Novak Djokovic insists he has no intention of ending his non-vaccination stance anytime soon
Djokovic was turfed out of Australia last month over his refusal to get the Covid-19 jab
The All England Club are reserving their position until nearer the time but insiders say there is little inclination there to go above and beyond what the Government stipulates.
While the wider Covid situation in the UK looks stable, there seems no reason why he could not play, having legally entered the country.
Of course, there are factors — such as a new variant emerging — which could change matters. Equally, other countries might relax restrictions in the coming months.
Right now, his playing options look limited, although the French authorities have said that next month they will review policies that could exclude him from Roland Garros.
Djokovic’s personal sponsors are said to be becoming increasingly edgy about being associated with him and the lack of tournaments he is playing.
There appears no way he will be allowed into the United States for March’s events at Indian Wells and Miami, which follow the ATP event in Dubai next week, which he will play.
Djokovic chose to speak to the BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan for his first interview, with a London-based PR company, Freuds, believed to have been involved in setting it up.
The reigning Wimbledon champion set out his position as being about personal choice for people. As he put it: ‘The right to choose, to act or say whatever they feel is appropriate to them.’
He was also keen to set himself apart from the anti-vax movement, of which he is seen as an emblem.
‘I was never against vaccination,’ he said. ‘I understand that globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing, hopefully, an end soon to this virus.
‘I have never said that I am part of that (anti-vax) movement.
‘As an elite professional athlete I have always carefully reviewed and assessed everything that comes in, from the supplements, the food, the water that I drink or sports drinks, anything really that comes into my body as a fuel. Based on all the information that I got, I decided not to take the vaccine.’
He also denied, albeit unspecifically, there was anything untoward about his positive test of December 16.
The world No 1’s insistence on remaining unjabbed could come as a blessing for UK tennis
Djokovic could enjoy a prolonged spell in the UK at Queen’s and Wimbledon this summer
‘I understand that there is a lot of criticism. Millions of people have and are still struggling with Covid around the world. So I take this very seriously, I really don’t like someone thinking I’ve misused something or in my own favour, in order to, you know, get a positive PCR test and go to Australia.’
He insisted that his paperwork had not been a problem in last month’s episode and it was down to human error that he had not put on his form where he had travelled to in the previous 14 days.
‘The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the Minister for Immigration used his discretion to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.’