‘The only way to stop this pandemic’: Nadal backs rules that stopped Djokovic

Former world No.1 Rafael Nadal has backed Australia’s vaccine mandate, saying Novak Djokovic had to deal with the consequences of his choice not to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Following a dramatic 24 hours in Melbourne, in which Djokovic arrived at Melbourne Airport only to have his visa cancelled, Nadal said: “If you don’t want to get the vaccine, you’re going to have some troubles”.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal shake hands after their semi-final at Roland-Garros last year.Credit:AP

“I think if he wanted, he would be playing here in Australia [at the Australian Open] without a problem,” Nadal said.

“He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences.

“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.”

Speaking for the first time since arriving in Australia after his Open campaign was threatened due to a COVID-19 infection, Nadal, who is level with Djokovic on 20 grand slam titles, offered his sympathy to Australians.

“It’s normal that the people here in Australia get very frustrated with the case, because they have been going through a lot of very hard lockdowns,” Nadal said.

“A lot of people were not able to come back home.”

He backed the role of science and medicine. “After a lot of people have been dying for two years my feeling is with the vaccine, [it’s] the only way to stop this pandemic.

“The only for me clear thing is if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open and everywhere, and the world in my opinion have been suffering enough to not follow the rules.”

Earlier, Djokovic’s father described his son as the “symbol and the leader of the free world” despite being “in Australian captivity”.

Srdjan Djokovic said his son was the “Spartacus” of a new world – one that “does not tolerate injustice, colonialism and hypocrisy”.

The rejection of the nine-time Australian Open champion at the national border has sparked widespread debate in tennis circles but has largely placated a Victorian community that was left outraged on Tuesday night when Djokovic revealed, via social media, he had received “exemption permission” to travel to Australia.

Djokovic’s lawyers are challenging the decision made by Australian Border Force, but it is expected he will be on his way back to Europe as early as Thursday night.

In comments translated from Serbian media, Srdjan Djokovic said: “My son is tonight in Australian captivity, but he has never been more free.

“From this moment, Novak has become the symbol and the leader of the free world, the world of the poor and disadvantaged nations and peoples.

Novak Djokovic and his father celebrate his Wimbledon win in 2019.Credit:Getty Images

“My son Novak Djokovic has shown that a small, but heroic country like Serbia, can have the best tennis player and sportsman of all time and that truth can no longer be hidden.”

Amid a growing diplomatic brouhaha, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison declaring it was the responsibility of all travellers to Australia to adhere to entry rules, former Australian Open tournament director Paul McNamee was left stunned that Djokovic would be the only Australian Open participant so far to have his visa approved and then rejected.

“For those asking, all players go through the same visa process overseen by Tennis Australia to play the Australian Open [as non Australians are currently not able to enter]. So it beggars belief that Djokovic is the only player that has had his visa granted and then rescinded,” McNamee said on Twitter.

On Wednesday, the former doubles champion said: “We need to remember one thing … even if you are angry, Novak Djokovic did not set the rules.”

Srdjan Djokovic has made impassioned comments about his son, who faces deportation from Australia.Credit:AP

Srdjan Djokovic warned that the “rich world” may not allow his son to continue to play tennis.

“Tonight they can imprison him, tomorrow they can chain him, but the truth is like water and it will always find its way,” he told Serbian paper Telegraf.

“Novak is the Spartacus of the new world which does not tolerate injustice, colonialism and hypocrisy, but fights for the equality of all people on the planet, regardless of the colour of their skin, regardless of which God they worship and how much money they have.

“Novak has shown that any goal can be reached if you have your dreams, and that dream of his is shared by billions of people and children who look up to him.

“Maybe the rich world will not let ‘Nole’ play tennis anymore, but by doing that it will have revealed its true face and a much more serious game will thus begin.

“On one side, there will be greedy and arrogant members of the world’s oligarchy, and on the other, the whole freedom-loving and proud world which still believes in justice, the truth, fair play and their children’s dreams.”

Djokovic also found a supporter in two-time Australian Open quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren.

“Just to be crystal clear here, two separate medical boards approved his exemption,” Sandgren wrote online.

“And politicians are stopping it. Australia doesn’t deserve to host a grand slam.”

Sandgren also mocked the Victorian government for not supporting Djokovic’s visa on Wednesday night.

“LOL trusting the science once again,” Sandgren wrote.

Sandgren, however, appears to be in the minority among his cohort.

Highly respected sports journalist and commentator Jon Wertheim, a Sports Illustrated executive editor, reflected on the dynamics of Australian politics.

“Never mind break points saved … this is face saved. Advantage, Morrison,” Wertheim tweeted, referencing the Australian Prime Minister.

“Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” Morrison tweeted on Thursday morning. “No one is above these rules.”

Ukrainian tennis veteran Sergiy Stakhovsky lamented the by-play than can happen between sport and politics.

“When next time somebody will tell you ‘sports is not interfering with politics’ you remember the 6 Jan 2022 when purely political ‘ego’ is not allowing best tennis player in the world to enter the country to which they ‘governmental institutions’ granted entry,” Stakhovsky said on Twitter.

The 35-year-old last year was a supporter of Tennis Australia’s efforts to get the 2021 Australian Open off the ground in the middle of the pandemic, when players and officials were required to undertake hotel quarantine beforehand.

Several players offered cautious support for Djokovic’s entry into the country when asked about the news on Wednesday, and prominent New York Times tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg offered his view after the rejection news was revealed.

“Whatever happens as this unfolds here, this is completely Novak Djokovic’s fault for not getting the vaccine in the first place, which he had *months* to do,” Rothenberg wrote on Twitter.

“Best case scenario for everyone would have been a vaxxed (sic) Novak playing the #AusOpen with no drama. He chose against that.”

Reporter Sasa Ozmo, who has a close working relationship with Djokovic, described the situation as “public humiliation”.

“You follow the rules set by the authorities of the country. You fly across the world to then be told by the same people who approved your application that you can’t enter, while being isolated in a room,” Ozmo wrote on Twitter.

“That’s not the way to treat anybody. Public humiliation.”

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