Djokovic Throwing it All Away

The Serbian superstar is sacrificing immortality to avoid vaccination.

I haven’t had much to say about the bizarre saga surrounding tennis great Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. The short version is that I simultaneously agree with the decision to ban him from the tournament for failing to comply with Australian law in regards to COVID vaccination and think it rather outrageous to have allowed him to fly all the way to Australia and then not only deny him entry on a technicality but then have him dangling for days on end. It’s not like his arrival or his vaccination status was a surprise. It was both unfair to him and to the other competitors in the event.

Regardless, news that he may be similarly be banned from the French Open makes this worth remarking on.


Novak Djokovic risks being frozen out of tennis as he chases a record 21st Grand Slam title, with rules on travellers who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 tightening in the third year of the pandemic and some tournaments reconsidering exemptions.

The Serbian, who has not been vaccinated, was deported from Australia on Sunday ahead of the Australian Open after losing a court case to have the cancellation of his visa overturned.

Under Australian law, Djokovic cannot get another visa for three years – denying him the chance to add to his nine titles at Melbourne Park – but the government has left the door open for a possible return next year. read more

The world number one, however, faces more immediate hurdles in his bid to overtake Swiss Roger Federer and Spaniard Rafa Nadal, with whom he is tied on 20 major titles, as he could be barred from the French Open as things stand.

The French Sports Ministry said on Monday there would be no exemption from a new vaccine pass law approved on Sunday, which requires people to have vaccination certificates to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes and cinemas.

“This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice,” the ministry said.

“As far as Roland Garros is concerned, it’s in May. The situation may change between now and then and we hope it’ll be more favourable. So we’ll see but clearly there’s no exemption.”

So, the recap, Djokovic is tied with Federer and Nadal for most Grand Slam titles in the history of the sport. One more and he can reasonably (although certainly not undisputedly) claim the title as the greatest tennis player in history. He won three Slams, including the Australian, last year and, as the #1 seed, was the favorite to win the Australian this year. He won the French last year and would presumably be the favorite to do so this year. So, he’s potentially thrown away two chances at having the record to himself and, quite possibly, the chance to make the record seemingly unreachable.

Federer is 40 years old and hasn’t won a grand slam event since the 2018 Australian Open. He’s been written off as done many times before and surprised folks but there’s a really good chance that his career Slam total will stay at 20.

Nidal is only 35, eleven months older than Djokovic. His last title was the 2020 French Open. He’s something of a clay court specialist, with that tournament accounting for 13 of his 20 Slams. He probably has another couple in him but rather obviously the path is easier with Djokovich (who himself has won at Roland Garos twice) out of the way.

All of which is to say: I can’t for the life of me figure out why Djokovic is willing to throw away tens of millions of dollars and a claim to be the greatest of the great over a shot. Presumably, he could just get one jab of the Johnson and Johnson and be done with it. Or, cynically, get a Serbian doctor to fake his vaccination records.

On what possible principle would someone sacrifice so much for so little?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy says:

    It’s like a law of nature: Covidiots gotta covidiot.

    What’s surprising is the break with the principle that celebrities are above the law.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    The folks at Roland Garros are being optimistic. His participation in the US Open is also in doubt. Vaccination is required for entry to the US and NYC has its own ban. If they won’t let Kyrie play for the hometown Nets, they won’t let Joker play.

    Another person who believes in ego is bigger than the rest of the world. But Oz was also wrong in giving him the visa and then revoking it when he arrived. He never should have been granted the visa in the first place.

  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    It’s been ages since I was the least bit interested in tennis.
    This episode only confirms that lack of interest.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    My sympathy over allowing him to fly to Australia only to throw him out later is considerably tempered by the revelation that he lied on his visa application.

    A few days ago NYT ran a column by an Australian journalist who said deporting Djokovic polled at 83% in favor. I didn’t think you could get 83% agreement with “water is wet”. Meanwhile, Political Wire says his primary sponsor, Lacoste, is “reviewing” the situation. They paid Djokivic a lot of money for advertising exposure they’re not getting.

  5. just nutha says:

    @gVOR08: That he lied on his visa application puts this whole thing on him, in my opinion. He apparently knew that he needed to be vaccinated. He should have not gotten on the plane knowing that he was ineligible to enter the country. Easy peasy.

  6. Dude Kembro says:

    Antivaxxers who own the risk without burdening others (including hospitals) are tolerable. There are those are longtime skeptics of traditional medicine, new agey advocates of holistic/alternative healing.

    Okay, fine. I separate those folk from bandwagon conspiracy theorists, addled on Joe Rogan’s Goop-for-incels podcast, politicizing a vaccine and insisting YouTube and Instagram are “research.” Nole was supposed to belong to the other group. Which includes the unvaccinated players who accepted without drama they weren’t going down to Oz this year.

    Only one guy caused an international incident, distracting from the game and drawing all attention to himself with astoundingly entitled acts: his superspreader tournament last summer, not isolating after testing positive last month, and submitting a false entry form last week. Really, Nole?

    Maybe worse than wins and money, what’s he’s sacrificing is legacy, and the chance to end up like rehabilitated like Tom Brady instead of side-eyed like Roger Clemens. Among tennis fans, Nole has been considered an unworthy brat, never as beloved as Nadal or Federer. Now those of us who’ve defended him look foolish. I’ve been eating crow in a group chat where I an one of few green bubbles, in addition to being a longtime Nole-apologist. Thanks Nole!

    Vamos Rafael!

  7. Gustopher says:

    @just nutha: I think you’re missing the key point though — he’s a star, and when you’re a star, they let you do anything.

  8. CSK says:

    Has Djokovic a history of pussy-grabbing?

  9. MarkedMan says:

    Zero sympathy for someone who “does his own research” and comes away believing in fairy stories. If someone sh*ts in their own drinking water because he doesn’t believe in germ theory, it is an indication of his stupidity but within his rights. But if he insists it’s his right to sh*t in everyone’s water because he’s a f*cking genius, then he owns all the bad stuff that rains down on his pointy head.

  10. Scott F. says:

    All of which is to say: I can’t for the life of me figure out why Djokovic is willing to throw away tens of millions of dollars and a claim to be the greatest of the great over a shot. Presumably, he could just get one jab of the Johnson and Johnson and be done with it. Or, cynically, get a Serbian doctor to fake his vaccination records.

    Djokovic has painted himself into a corner, doncha think? He can’t even falsify his vaccination without conceding his anti-vax stand and I just don’t see an ego like his conceding that he was wrong.

  11. Raoul says:

    He did not lie in his visa application. Everyone knows that Spain is a Serbian province. /s

  12. KM says:

    All of which is to say: I can’t for the life of me figure out why Djokovic is willing to throw away tens of millions of dollars and a claim to be the greatest of the great over a shot.

    Ego. Pure f^cking ego and The Rules Do Not Apply to Me Syndrome. He’s special @James, don’t you know?

    He knew the rules and didn’t want to to follow them. He tried the weasel route of getting an exception (already a huge TRDNAM attitude) from the government, scored one he shouldn’t have gotten and then went on to lie on official documentation because he couldn’t even manage to stay within his carve-out. Seriously, if it was just about the shot he could have sat pretty for the two weeks and the procedural win would have gotten him through. He knew he was infected and traveled around and he did it in the two week timeframe he knew would be relevant to his visa.

    All this screams I DO WHAT I WANT and the sheer entitlement of it all is what got him. He’s a star, he’s special so the rules don’t apply to him – after scoring his controversial exception, the smart thing should have been to lay low and not cause a fuss. That’s not who he is, though and it’s cost him. He got what an entitled brat like him deserves and now other tournaments aren’t going to grace him with the same accommodations because of how he acted. No more quiet exceptions for him due to the media storm he caused; it’s play by the rules or bye-bye.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think we’re discounting the possibility that he has a needle phobia. Some day someone will do a PhD thesis demonstrating that needle fear is a major contributor to anti-vax sentiment.

  14. Stormy Dragon says:

    Another irony with this whole story is how many of the people complaining about Djokovic getting deported are the same ones constantly complaining about lax enforcement of immigration laws, once again underlining that the “we’re only opposed to ILLEGAL immigration” people are lying about their actual motives.

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I think you mentioned that you have a needle phobia. How do you feel about injection guns? (Which were in vogue at one point and now seem to have fallen out of favour.)

    I ask because in my experience the injection guns were more painful than any of the tiny needles used for vaccinations. (I’ve got a needle phobia myself but it’s pretty controllable. I just don’t look.)

  16. EddieInCA says:

    I hope the US, France, and the Brits follow the lead of Australia.

    Eff him.

    Bye boy!

  17. gVOR08 says:


    Everyone knows that Spain is a Serbian province.

    By coincidence I’m reading The Sleepwalkers about the outbreak of WWI. Serbia has always been a pain in the world’s collective arse. And I really wouldn’t be surprised if they regard Spain, or even Australia, as properly part of Greater Serbia.

    I do chuckle over photographic evidence emerging of Djokovic going to Spain for, wait for it, a photo shoot. Of late I realize libertarians don’t only think they should be able to do whatever they feel like, they believe the rest of the world has a duty to shield them from any consequences.

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:
    It’s not really about pain, oddly. It’s sitting there passively while some random stranger stabs you. I suspect a link between needle phobia and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). Some people are just not good at accepting what, at some level, is a physical assault.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: OK. Maybe I’m missing your point. Let’s say he does have a needle phobia. What does that change?

  20. Mimai says:

    People are so befuddling. Frustratingly so. From wiki:

    In 2007, Djokovic founded the Novak Djokovic Foundation. The organization’s mission is to help children from disadvantaged communities to grow up and develop in stimulating and safe environments.[415] The foundation partnered with the World Bank in August 2015 to promote early childhood education in Serbia.[416][417][418] His foundation has built 43 schools and supported almost 20,800 children and a thousand families.[419][420]

    He participated in charity matches with the aim of raising funds for the reconstruction of the Avala Tower, as well as to aid victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake and 2010–11 Queensland floods.[421][422][423] Starting in 2007, he has established a tradition of hosting and socializing with hundreds of Kosovo Serb children during Davis Cup matches organized in Serbia.[424] Djokovic was selected as the 2012 Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year, for his contributions through the foundation, his role as a UNICEF national ambassador and other charitable projects.[425] In August 2015, he was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.[426]

    During the 2014 Balkans floods, he sparked worldwide financial and media support for victims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia.[427] After winning the 2014 Rome Masters, Djokovic donated his prize money to the flood victims in Serbia, while his foundation collected another $600,000.[427][420] Following his 2016 Australian Open victory, Djokovic donated $20,000 to Melbourne City Mission’s early childhood education programm to help disadvantaged children.[428] After the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Serbia in March 2020, he and his wife announced that they will donate €1 million for the purchase of ventilators and medical equipment to support hospitals and other medical institutions.[429] He also made a donation to Bergamo, Italy‚ one of the worst-affected Italian provinces, as well as to Novi Pazar, Serbia and North Mitrovica, Kosovo.[430][431][432]

  21. Bnut says:

    Djokovic is also a half crazy person anyway. He hocks snake oil supplements and beverages. He believes you THINK your food into being more nutritious.

  22. just nutha says:

    @Gustopher: It would seem that, for whatever reason, spreading Covid-19 is different from grabbing em by the pussy. I can’t imagine why, but there it is.

  23. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’m less needle-phobic than I once have, presumably because I’ve been jabbed enough goddamn times to become partially desensitized. Still, I can’t imagine that he hasn’t had all manner of other vaccines over the years, since they’re required for international travel. He won’t take one more for a chance to become the GOAT?

  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    It doesn’t change anything. I have the phobia and I’m packing three rounds of Moderna. If I can deal with it, so can he, the big pussy.

    @James Joyner:
    The thing is if you’re phobic I think it’s easier to accept the shot on your own terms. Forcing the issue heightens the resistance. But phobias are meant to be overcome, not fetishized. I’ve given myself a couple rounds of Trulicity just to establish that I could do it. (Well, me and my friends Four Roses Single Barrel or Talisker 10.)

  25. Kingdaddy says:

    Among the 5.55 million people who have died of COVID, as of this writing, there are an unknown number of them who would have made substantial accomplishments, many of them contributing to the well being of other human beings. And, of course, it’s a tragedy that they died, no matter how big or small their contributions may have been.

    I care far more about them, and the selfishness of people who made their deaths more likely, than I do about one person’s shot at winning tennis titles or busting tennis records.

  26. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The thing is if you’re phobic I think it’s easier to accept the shot on your own terms. Forcing the issue heightens the resistance.

    It is under his own terms. He doesn’t have to play every tournament or trying to keep his record going. He can just play in anti-vax friendly tournaments and venues like Dubai. Just because there aren’t that many doesn’t mean he can’t make money or stay in rankings.

    He’s *choosing* to try to be number one in his field and that means he is choosing to play in venues that mean you need to be vaxxed . There’s a (small) niche for him but he can still do his job.

  27. James Joyner says:

    @Kingdaddy: Well, sure. And I don’t personally care whether this guy wins another title. (Ditto Aaron Rodgers, who I’m actively rooting against even though my Cowboys are characteristically out of the playoffs early.) I’m just trying to understand a psychology that would allow someone to give up something that clearly means a lot to him—it’s literally his life’s work—for what seems like so little in return.

  28. Kingdaddy says:

    Absolutely, James, it’s a puzzle. I think there are at least two possible explanations:

    The chances of being a screwed up person are monotonic across all social classes, backgrounds, and other traits. In the high-achieving sports cohort, there will be people who make self-defeating choices, just as there are people in other walks of life who wreck careers, marriages, and other opportunities.

    Famous people are prone to greater heights of delusion and self-destruction than the norm. They have inflated egos, enablers immediately around them, fans willing to support them, and other forces that weaken the guardrails in their lives.

  29. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Michael Reynolds: My next question would be whether you think you would feel the same phobia about an injection gun as about a standard hypodermic needle injection? (IIRC, the injection gun idea was pushed partly as a way to get around people’s phobias about needles, but that it didn’t work.)

  30. EddieInCA says:

    In film and TV, actors are being dropped left and right – as in FIRED – for refusing vaccine mandates by the studios and networks. Steve Burton and Rockmond Dunbar being the two most notable.

    It seems like it’s only male actors so far. I’ve not heard of one female actor being fired or let go due to refusing to get vaxxed.

    And purely anecdotally, it seems like women are much more likely to be vaxxed than men. I’d love to see some data on this, but my life experience is such that it seems men are much more likely to be anti-vcxx than women.

  31. Kathy says:


    Such things are very common in athletes, who are constantly looking for some kind of edge over the competition.

  32. liberal capitalist says:

    some thoughts:

    1) I would really like a Grand Slam, but Denny’s is pretty far away.

    2) Serbians don’t have a great history of making good decisions.

  33. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Somebody has a martyrdom complex.

  34. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Grumpy Realist:
    I do think I’d be more relaxed about the gun, just because it breaks the association. I’m also less phobic about giving blood samples than taking injections, while I flatly refuse finger pricks. None of it’s rational except the finger prick thing which is a stupid, unnecessarily painful way to get a drop of blood. Sure, stab me in a bundle of nerve endings, that makes sense.

  35. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Yeah, that’s the only part I hated about donating blood – getting my finger stuck to get a hemoglobin reading.

  36. Michael Cain says:


    Yeah, that’s the only part I hated about donating blood – getting my finger stuck to get a hemoglobin reading.

    Back in the day when it depended on the skill of the person using a sterile corner, yeah. I find modern spring-loaded lancets almost painless, what with all the improvements that have been developed to compete for the diabetic fingerstick market.

  37. dazedandconfused says:

    The power of disinformation. It’s real.

  38. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You two should have been on the Theranos board. I can see it “A billion blood tests from a finger stick? Are you insane? People won’t submit to that kind of agony for your convenience.”

    For the record, I’ve had a few finger sticks, and found them barely noticeable.

  39. grumpy realist says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The Red Cross used to jab me in the ear before I donated blood. Then they got rid of that (pooling blood problems, they claimed) and moved over to using a finger, which I always felt was stupid.

    (I also found out the hard way that you don’t want to donate blood if you have jet lag. NononononoNO.)

  40. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @liberal capitalist: Because I live in a little town just off the freeway, the Denny’s is a 5-minute drive away, but I almost never think of missing a Grand Slam.

  41. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: I’ve had/done hundreds of finger sticks–measured my blood sugar 3 times/day for about 2 or 3 years when I was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes, and I get finger sticks for INR tests every 2 to 4 weeks. It’s no longer a thing for me.

  42. Barry says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “I think we’re discounting the possibility that he has a needle phobia. Some day someone will do a PhD thesis demonstrating that needle fear is a major contributor to anti-vax sentiment.”

    I disagree. 90-odd percent of the current sh@tshow happened only after Trump turned antivax, after he lost.

  43. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “I’m just trying to understand a psychology that would allow someone to give up something that clearly means a lot to him—it’s literally his life’s work—for what seems like so little in return.”

    I will bet that it started out with “I’m a star; rules are for peasants.”.

  44. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I think another possibility is that he went so far out in his anti-vax stand that he simply cannot bring himself to retreat or retract. It would make him look unmanly or weak or whatever his personal issue is. And I think the publicity around the whole incident has been beneficial. He looks like a stubborn, foot-stomping toddler and that’s not how anti-vaxxers want to be seen.

  45. RaflW says:

    @gVOR08: One could argue that Djokovic is getting way more exposure. I haven’t followed tennis for probably a decade, wouldn’t have know the names of the top seeds this year without the (self-own) controversy.
    But Lacoste may not want this exact sort of exposure. Seems it may not be true that all press is good press for a brand.

  46. de stijl says:

    I am agoraphobic.

    I still step out into the world becagoraphobia.

    It is uncomfortable and provokes anxiety, but I do it anyway. I must.

    Then I get home and breath freely. I am safe.

    Any outing without a panic attack is good.

    Djokovic is just being a perfomative asshole. Fuck him.

  47. Dutchmarbel says:

    @Grumpy Realist:
    Some vaccination centres over here in the Netherlands use VR glasses for people with needle phobia. Doesn’t always work, but seems to me to be friendlier than a needle gun.