BY Paul Seaton

With tennis on an indefinite hiatus, there have been many questions about how and when the game will return at the highest level.

One question that may yet need plenty more debate for it to find an answer has emerged this week as Serbian tennis legend and 16-time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic has said that he wouldn’t want “to be forced by someone to take a vaccine” in a chat between Serbian athletes on Facebook.

To date, there has been uniformity across tennis, with players, officials and commentators saying that when the game returns, all players should be given any vaccine that is available.

World number one Novak Djokovic, however, does not agree.

“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination,” said the reigning Australian Open champion and only Grand Slam winner this season. “I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.”

The threat of Djokovic not taking part in any major tennis event when the game returns casts a shadow over the hope that the sport will return in full when it is possible for it to do so. Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal are both the leading lights in tennis, but it’s quite possible that we’re unlikely to ever see Federer win another Slam, while Rafael Nadal’s susceptibility to injury means that his later years are likely to be higher risk than for Djokovic. The Serbian already has a winning head-to-head record against him friend and great rival.

Were Djokovic not to take part in any returning tennis tournament, for example a rescheduled U.S. Open later in the year,  it would be a disaster, and even more so if either Roger or Rafa didn’t make it. Djokovic is, at least in theory, the player most likely to lead the narrative of the next four or five years in the game, while players like Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem assert their authority. Djokovic already is that authority.

“I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know.” The Serb went on. “Hypothetically, if the season was to resume in July, August or September, though unlikely, I understand that a vaccine will become a requirement straight after we are out of strict quarantine and there is no vaccine yet.”

The likelihood of a vaccine coming along that soon seems remote, but if it were to happen and the tennis world was left without its world number one in the men’s game, it might affect how strong tennis’ ability to bounce back really is.

For Novak Djokovic, the idea of vaccination is one of personal choice, not something he should be forced to comply with. The idea of a Grand Slam without the world number one is a thought that would leave everyone feeling sick.


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