In June 2020, when sports were still largely shut down, and long before experts deemed it safe for people to gather and large events to take place, Djokovic organized a series of exhibition matches in Serbia and Croatia and invited several of the world’s top players to participate. They obliged, and several of them became infected with the coronavirus, including Djokovic.
Jan. 5, 2022, 7:21 a.m. ET
Eventually, vaccines became available and a debate ensued about requiring tennis players to get inoculated, to protect themselves, tennis fans and tournament organizers, since the tours are an 11-month journey around the world. Djokovic was adamantly against this. He has long said vaccination is a private and personal decision that should not be mandated.
This placed him at odds with his chief rivals, Federer and Nadal, who are vaccinated. Just last month, Nadal said he did not have a position on a mandate but deferred to the experts who said vaccines were the best way to protect everyone.
“I don’t pretend to know more than what the authorized people say,” Nadal said last month during his preparation for the Australian Open in the United Arab Emirates. He tested positive for the coronavirus upon his return to Spain. “If the people who really know about it say that we need to be vaccinated, who I am to create a different opinion?”
Throughout last year, the WTA, the professional women’s tour, and the ATP, the men’s circuit, did not require a vaccination, though players often have had to adhere to staying within a strict bubblelike environment as they hopscotched the world.
But then the Australian Open announced the vaccine would be required to gain entry into the country. Djokovic’s father referred to the mandate as “blackmail.” A confrontation between tournament organizers and Novak Djokovic appeared inevitable, producing mixed emotions at the top of the game.
The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know
Card 1 of 3
The global surge. The coronavirus is spreading faster than ever at the start of 2022, but the last days of 2021 brought the encouraging news that the Omicron variant produces less severe illness than earlier waves. As such, governments are focusing more on expanding vaccination than limiting the spread.
Return to office. For many businesses, the recent surge has brought a swift reversal of return-to-office plans. In recent days, companies including Goldman Sachs and Chevron have begun to backtrack on workplace policies. Some are telling employees to stay home with just days, or even hours, to spare before their planned returns.
Djokovic’s absence would make it easier for his rivals to win. But while he is not exactly close with Federer or Nadal, Djokovic is extremely popular among many top players, including leading members of the so-called next generation like Alexander Zverev of Germany, Daniil Medvedev of Russia and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who also happen to be his neighbors in Monte Carlo.