Djokovic defiant over vaccines as tennis ace teases comeback (VIDEO)
Tennis icon Novak Djokovic has pledged support for refugees, opened up on his Covid vaccination status ordeal and revealed that world number two Daniil Medvedev messaged him shortly after the Australian Open final.
Speaking as training footage emerged ahead of his comeback at the Dubai Open, which begins on Monday and does not require players to be vaccinated against Covid, the world number one reiterated that he is "ready to bear the consequences" of his decision not to take coronavirus shots, adding that he does not know whether he will be the same player when he competes for the first time since his visa was controversially canceled by the Australian government.
"Nothing depends on me at the moment," Djokovic told Serbian public broadcaster RTS.
"It depends on the rules of the tournament. I know that I can go to Dubai. I train hard and I have a great desire to play in Grand Slams and Masters.
"The rules are constantly changing, I am open-minded and I am not exclusive. I try to understand everything."
The 20-time Grand Slam champion reiterated that his reluctance to be vaccinated stems from his desire to keenly understand anything he absorbs.
"I triple-check what I take into my body and as soon as I change something, I feel it," he said.
"I am careful and take time for myself to see what I need to do. I'm eager to play. I keep an open mind; everything in life is possible.
"At the moment, I will not get vaccinated and I am ready to bear the consequences of my decision. It is a decision I made consciously and conscientiously."
The famous Mouratoglou Tennis Center in the French Riviera shared footage of Djokovic training in Dubai, adding: "Guess who's back?"
The competition will be Djokovic's first of 2022 following his nightmare in Australia.
"I will always remember all the nice things that have happened to me in Melbourne," Djokovic reflected, alluding to his nine Australian Open titles.
"Despite all this, I have a great connection with Australia. Results that I have had in Melbourne in the past show you how I feel when I go there.
"Everything that has happened this year was totally unexpected. It will be hard to forget but I want to go back to Australia in the future and to play at the Rod Laver Arena again."
Djokovic warned that he is more motivated than ever, having fallen one Grand Slam behind record-setting Australian Open winner Rafael Nadal.
His challenge starts with a potential concession of his long-held status at the top of the rankings to Daniil Medvedev, depending on whether the Russian wins the concurrent ATP 500 in Mexico.
"He is a great guy with whom I always have a great relationship," Djokovic said of the man who beat him in the 2021 US Open final and praised him during the first Grand Slam of 2022.
"I helped him a lot when he was a junior; we trained together while he was a junior. I gave him advice.
"We once flew to the Davis Cup in Nis – I offered him to fly with me and he still appreciates it today, even after we became great rivals.
"He sent me a message 45 minutes after his final match in Australia, which surprised me. I congratulated him on a great fight.
"I saw myself through him because I am somewhat like that myself. I have always supported all my colleagues.
"I liked the chances I had [of winning the Australian Open]. The more you win somewhere, the more self-confidence you have.
"Out of respect for Nadal and the other competitors, I won't say that I would have won for sure – but I had a good chance of winning the trophy.
"I didn't want to watch the Australian Open final but I watched it with my wife and son. I didn't watch the whole match. I never cheered because I wanted to play the finals, not watch it on TV."
Australian badboy Nick Kyrgios's support for Djokovic surprised him because of their "misunderstandings" in the past, he said, adding that top stars including Alex Zverev have also offered support.
"I can't say that things will be the same when I return to the court because this situation will certainly affect my return now to Dubai," Djokovic admitted, revealing that he wants to play at the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.
"I am trying and working to direct my energy in a positive direction, to be constructive for me, to get the fuel I need out of it on the field, both physically and mentally... to win the matches in which I participate."
Fans protested outside the hotel where Djokovic was kept after spending hours being grilled by the Australian Border Force following his arrival in the country on the understanding that he would be exempt from vaccination requirements because he recovered from Covid in December.
Media reports claimed that the accommodation was far removed from the usual luxuries Djokovic enjoys on tour and pointed out that it is also used to detain immigrants.
"The conditions were difficult – I have never experienced anything like it. I would look back at those people who have been imprisoned there for nine years there.
"My seven days is nothing compared to their nine years. I couldn't leave the room. It is extremely difficult for them there.
"It is a global problem and I hope that we will all be able to help them globally. I will do my best to help them as much as I can.
"As I grew up in the 1990s, when there were a lot of refugees, I understand those people there. We should not allow so many people to have such problems.
"One of the biggest reasons I want to return to Australia is the people who supported me. I had a short period of freedom between the two lawsuits and I used those days to train and be at the gym.
"I was focused on the Australian Open, I was mentally ready to compete, I was in the draw. That second dispute ended as it ended and I was deported."
An interview Djokovic conducted with a journalist for French newspaper L'Equipe has gained infamy because the star admitted it went ahead out of a sense of duty he felt despite discovering he had Covid.
"I found out that I was positive on the day when the journalist came to Belgrade," explained Djokovic.
"I thought about what to do and in the end I went to do an interview. I had a mask on all the time and I respected the distance.
"I have no problem saying I was wrong. I respect everyone and I understand that we are all different. There is no sinless man. I don't expect everyone to forgive me."
The reigning Wimbledon champion was asked whether he might have been treated differently in Australia had he accepted an attempt to offer him British citizenship in 2006.
"I don’t regret it," he insisted. "On the contrary, I am very satisfied with that decision.
"I always remind myself of the way I grew up, it makes me appreciate what I have now even more.
"Everyone carries a cross they can bear. I am grateful for everything that life and god gives me.
"I will learn lessons and become a better version of myself both as a man and as a tennis player."
Ahead of his return to action, Djokovic and wife Jelena appeared at the Serbian Pavilion at Dubai's Expo 2020 to promote their foundation for childhood education.
Walking through the pavilion on Thursday, Djokovic was surrounded by throngs of fans who clapped and chanted his nickname, 'Nole', as the 34-year-old posed for selfies with his adoring supporters.
"I'm excited to go out on the tennis court next Monday," Djokovic later said. "I miss tennis, honestly, after everything that has happened."
The Dubai Open culminates with the men's final on February 26 2022.