Djokovic is set to return to action in Dubai next week for the first time since his deportation from Australia. | TOBY MELVILLE


Novak Djokovic is prepared to miss the French Open and Wimbledon rather than have a COVID-19 vaccination but denies being an anti-vaxxer, the world number one said in his first interview since his failed attempt to play at the Australian Open.

After an 11-day rollercoaster involving two visa cancellations, two court challenges and five nights in two stints at an immigration detention hotel, the unvaccinated Djokovic was deported.

The debacle deprived the 34-year-old the chance to win a record-extending 10th Australian Open and a men's record 21st Grand Slam title.

Career-rival Rafa Nadal won the title and moved to 21 and with Djokovic unwilling to have a vaccine putting a question mark over his participation, the Serb's hopes of ending his career with the most Grand Slam titles are in jeopardy.

"I understand the consequences of my decision," Djokovic told the BBC, adding that he was prepared not to travel to Australia due to his unvaccinated status.

"I understand that not being vaccinated today, I am unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment. Yes, that is the price that I'm willing to pay.

"Because the principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else."

Encouragingly for Djokovic's hopes of trying to defend his French Open and Wimbledon titles, travel rules in France and Britain have been eased.

Unvaccinated travellers no longer need to isolate on arrival in France if they have travelled from another EU country and Djokovic is now a resident of Spain.

In Britain, unvaccinated arrivals only need to take a COVID-19 test before and after arrival and complete a whereabouts form, but do not need to quarantine.

Asked whether Djokovic could be barred from playing at Wimbledon, former British number and All England Club committee member Tim Henman told the BBC: "I don't think so.
"Those are the guidelines the Championship will be following at this stage."

His prospects of playing in the United States, including the U.S. Open, look bleak at the moment, however, as vaccination certificates remain compulsory.

A steely-eyed Djokovic said he hoped to compete for "many more years" and distanced himself from the anti-vaccination movement that made him a cause celebre during the drawn out saga that overshadowed the build-up to the Australian Open.

"I was never against vaccination," he said, adding that he took vaccines as a child. "But I've always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.

"I understand that globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus and seeing, hopefully, an end soon to this virus.

"I have never said I am part of that movement. No-one in the whole process, during Australian saga has asked me for my stance or opinion on vaccination. No-one."

Melbourne saga

Djokovic fuelled widespread anger in Australia when he was given a medical exemption from mandatory COVID-19 vaccination to compete at Melbourne Park on grounds that he had recently contracted the virus.

But he was detained by immigration authorities on arrival, released by a court order and then detained again before eventually being deported.

The case stoked global debate and Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Djokovic could be a threat to public order in the country because his presence would encourage anti-vaccination sentiment.

"I was really sad and disappointed with the way it all ended for me in Australia," Djokovic said, adding that he was deported despite following all rules. "It wasn't easy.

"The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the Minister for Immigration used his discretion to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with."

Djokovic is set to return to action in Dubai next week for the first time since his deportation from Australia.