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Novak Djokovic’s rivals are reacting to the latest twists in his fight to compete in the Australian Open with a mix of sympathy and a desire for a final resolution, to put the focus back on the Grand Slam tournament.
Earlier this week, Djokovic said he was “pleased and grateful” that a judge overturned his visa cancellation week. But on Friday, Australia’s immigration minister again revoked the visa. Djokovic is slated to once again be detained on Saturday, awaiting the results of a a court hearing on Sunday.
Even players who previously said Djokovic should have simply followed the rules — and either gotten vaccinated or skip the tournament — now say they don’t like how the dispute is playing out. They cite Djokovic’s forced stay in a quarantine hotel, and the confusion and distraction from the Australian Open, which opens the Grand Slam season.
Here’s a recap of what some of the top players said this week:
Rafael Nadal, who like Djokovic currently has 20 Grand Slam wins, said Monday, “Regardless of whether or not I agree on some things with Djokovic, without any doubt, justice has spoken.”
The Spanish star was quoted speaking to Spanish radio after a judge cleared Djokovic to remain in Melbourne, before his visa was revoked again.
“They have said he has the right to play in the Australian Open and I really believe that is the fairest thing if the issue has been resolved, which seems to be the case,” Nadal said.
Like many other tennis pros, Nadal had previously said the requirements for athletes who want to play in Australia were clear.
“He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences,” Nadal was quoted saying last week.
“Of course, I don’t like the situation that is happening. In some way, I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.”
Nadal said he understood the anger many feel in Australia, citing the many sacrifices that the pandemic has required.
“I believe in what the people who know about medicine say, and if the people say that we need to get vaccinated, we need to get the vaccine.”
Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece said Djokovic wants to follow his own rules.
“For sure, he has been playing by his own rules, and has been doing something that not many players had the guts to go and do, especially after the ATP announced certain criteria for players to enter the country,” Greece’s Tsitsipas told India’s WION news channel.
“No one would have really thought, ‘I can just come to Australia unvaccinated, and not having to follow the protocols that they gave me,’ which — it takes a lot of daring to do, and [it’s] putting the Grand Slam at risk, which, again, I don’t think many players would do.”
Tsitsipas, who has aired his own doubts about coronavirus vaccines, said he chose to get vaccinated and focus on playing tennis.
“There are two ways to look at it. One way is … the stats say that 98% of players have been vaccinated, and did what they had to do in order to come and perform and play in Australia,” he said in the WION interview.
“In the other sense, it seems like not everyone is playing by the rules,” Tsitsipas said. He added, “a very small minority of that percentage chose to follow their own way, which kind of makes the majority look like they’re all fools or something.”
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Nick Kyrgios — the Australian who tested positive for COVID-19 this month, but hopes to be able to compete in the Open — said early on during the drama around Djokovic’s Australian visit that he believes everyone should follow the same rules, and get vaccinated if they want to enter the country.
But as Djokovic spent days confined to a hotel awaiting word on his visa, Kyrgios also said he felt sympathy for the Serbian’s plight.
“I feel like, whether it’s right or wrong … he’s a human at the end of the day,” Kyrgios said. “I kind of feel sorry for him, that’s where I stand at the moment. I don’t think this is the right way to go about it.”
People who come to Australia despite a problem with their visa should be allowed to correct the issue, Kyrgios said.
“Because it’s Novak, I feel like we’re almost going a step further to punish him, in a sense.”
Kyrgios has said he got vaccinated to protect others, including his mother. But he criticized the way Djokovic is being treated and how his story is being told in the media.
“I feel quite embarrassed as an Australian athlete that’s seen what this guy has done for us and the sport,” Kyrgios said this week in a video clip on Instagram.
Andy Murray said, “I think everyone is shocked by it to be honest.”
“I’m going to say two things on it just now. The first thing is that I hope that Novak is OK,” the British player was quoted telling reporters. “I know him well, and I’ve always had a good relationship with him.
“The second thing I’ll say on it, is it’s really not good for tennis at all, and I don’t think it’s good for anyone involved. I think it’s really bad.
“Some stuff has come out that really doesn’t look good, either. I want to hear all the facts first before giving all of my thoughts on it.”
In late December, Murray announced he’d received a vaccine booster shot, joking that he got his “3rd microchip injected into me today.”
“Joking aside..science is the best,” he added.
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