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17 Jan, 2022 16:05

Tennis legend in damning verdict on ‘weird’ Djokovic fiasco

John McEnroe has not minced his words about the saga that saw the Australian Open champ's visa canceled
Tennis legend in damning verdict on ‘weird’ Djokovic fiasco

One of the most outspoken figures in tennis has savaged the Australian government over Novak Djokovic's deportation, calling his Covid vaccination row nonsense as part of a rant in which he seemed confused about some of the facts.

Passionate pundit McEnroe has received a mixed reaction after reportedly calling Djokovic's meeting with a reporter a day after he tested positive for Covid, which the world number one issued an apology over, a "rumor".

The seven-time Grand Slam winner is said to have asked whether the development that Djokovic had held the interview with a L'Equipe journalist was an "absolute fact" – even though Djokovic confirmed that he had honored the appointment, explaining that he did not want to let the writer down and had taken precautions.

McEnroe – known for his fiery on-court outbursts during his celebrated playing career – seemed surer when he spoke of his disdain for the way Djokovic was treated during his ill-fated trip to Australia, which resulted in a second attempt by prime minister Scott Morrison's government to deport the icon succeeding after he had spent almost two weeks detained in a hotel.

"It’s sad the way it ended," McEnroe told ESPN via news.com.au, describing the fiasco, which saw Australian Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke twice apply to have Djokovic's visa canceled, as an "absolute joke".

"I watched it play out live. It’s total BS. If he decides not to have a vaccine and the Australian authorities say, ‘You cannot [play in the tournament] unless you’re vaccinated,’ [that's the] end of [the] story – it’s black or white.

“He decides whether or not he wants to do it. He’s got very strong beliefs – he’s entitled to those beliefs.

“The guy’s won [the tournament] nine times. I’ve got to hand it to him. I’ve got seven majors, he’s got 20.

"The reason he’s got a lot more than me is because he’s willing to go risk that, to [attempt entry without being vaccinated].

“You’re talking about a guy that was potentially about to break Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s record [of 20 titles] and he was willing to go to these lengths: ‘I don’t want to get vaccinated but I’m going to do whatever it takes.'"

Djokovic was mystified by border force officials questioning his right to be in Australia after he said he had been told that he would be granted a medical exemption from vaccination because he tested positive for Covid in December 2021.

“Here’s the other part that’s weird,” McEnroe added in an aside that is said to have been corrected by presenters of the program.

“Djokovic apparently... and listen, I’m a fan of Novak and I have a lot of respect for him... but supposedly he knew he had [Covid], and then he flew back and went to Serbia and that’s not what you’re allowed to do.

“And then he met with some journalist, allegedly… that he spoke to a journalist, in Serbia I believe, I don’t know the exact details of the dates… is that proven, is that absolute fact? You know journalists have been known to [exaggerate situations]."

When he was told that Djokovic had confirmed the interview had taken place in a statement, McEnroe is said to have replied: “I see. Well, that hurts. That hurts.”

McEnroe addressed the debate around whether Djokovic had planned to travel to Melbourne before he contracted Covid and appeared to suggest there had been an agenda against the Serbian hero.

“OK, let’s assume that he wasn’t going to play but then suddenly he got Covid and then he got an exemption and he can play," said the 62-year-old.

"You can’t tell him after he flies all the way there. The idea that the government and these people weren’t in cahoots with each other, I’m sorry.

"I don’t buy into that one. They all knew what was going on. That’s why people are up in arms, but nonetheless they granted this exemption. You can’t do this after that – it’s a joke.”

The broadcaster and Djokovic had their critics after the segment aired, with some claiming they had lost respect for McEnroe and others accusing the unvaccinated star of lying.

"Don't think I've seen a sports broadcaster less prepared to have a conversation," said one.

Others praised McEnroe and said he was correct to be angry about the ordeal Djokovic endured following his initial 25-hour flight.

"Novak’s visa eligibility should have been sorted out well in advance of the tournament," argued one. "The whole episode is farcical."