Anger over Novak Djokovic’s immigration struggles has thoroughly overshadowed the tennis played before the Australian Open this week, and Andy Murray, one of Djokovic’s longtime rivals, weighed in within minutes of reaching the singles final of the Sydney International.
“I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak while he’s down,” said Murray, a former world number one. “I said it recently – it’s not a good situation for anyone.”
Murray, like many players and fans, was unclear about what might come next; after his visa was revoked for the second time, Djokovic’s lawyers were soon back in court for a hearing on Friday night.
But Murray said he was eager for the situation to be resolved.
“I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case,” he said. “It seems like it’s been going on for quite some time and yeah – not great for tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak. Of course, many people here also criticize the government. It hasn’t been good.”
Murray said he would encourage people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and also felt they should have the choice to decline the injection, as Djokovic has done.
“But there are also sometimes consequences for those decisions,” Murray said. “The lady who gave me my third shot, she works at the hospital in central London, and she told me that every single person who is in the ICU and on the ventilator are all people who have not been vaccinated. So to me it makes sense that people would go ahead and let it be done.
“Yeah, most young, more or less healthy athletes will probably be okay, but yeah, we all have to play our part in this one, I think.”
This year’s Open qualifying tournament in Melbourne Park had little audience, but the drama surrounding Djokovic’s presence in the country kept almost everyone busy on Friday.
“I love my tennis, but I think this is separate from tennis to be honest,” said Tom Rundle, a 58-year-old from Adelaide in a wide-brimmed hat. “This is a bigger problem. Everyone has to follow the rules, and the government has been pretty strict about getting vaccinated since six months ago. I don’t think we’re doing the wrong thing from Novak; unfortunately it is about following the rules.”
Petr Tretinik, a 37-year-old Melbourne native from Slovakia, said he’s been following Djokovic’s career closely for a long time and had returned to the Australian Open this year in hopes of seeing him again.
“This is his tournament and I think it’s a big loss for the Australian Open,” said Tretinik, who stood next to the Rod Laver Arena, where Djokovic won his nine previous Australian Open singles titles. “His face is everywhere here at the tournament and if you just walk around the city and take the trams.
“But it is what it is. At some point I think it will be like vaccinated against unvaccinated again, and if Novak plays the tournament it will be a big win for antivaxxers. It’s a tricky situation.”
Roger Rasheed, an Australian who has coached several leading players, including former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, said Djokovic should accept the second withdrawal of his visa, rather than try to challenge the government’s decision. A hearing related to his appeal is scheduled for Saturday morning.
“I think there’s a time when you have to do what’s good for the greater good and what’s good for the sport and your colleagues,” Rasheed said. “And basically stepping away and saying, ‘I’ll come back for another year and do this again.’ The conditions are unfortunate, but it is a very volatile environment.”