Novak Djokovic made headlines across the world over his firm stance against getting the COVID-19 vaccine, but in a new episode of ESPN+’s “McEnroe’s Places,” he said that he wasn’t anti-vax.
Djokovic, who captured his 24th Grand Slam title at this year’s U.S. Openaddressed the controversy with host and tennis legend John McEnroe.
The tennis superstar said his issue with the vaccine wasn’t whether it worked or not, rather he took umbrage with how he felt it had been forced on people.
“I was never anti-vax,” Djokovic said during the episode. “I was always pro-freedom-to-choose. And that’s something that we took really for granted. I didn’t feel like a lot of people had a choice, really, and I was encountering that on a daily basis with so many people in my country or around the world.”
Djokovic’s decision to remain unvaccinated prevented him from competing in certain parts of the world, including the United States, until the vaccine mandate for foreign travelers to the U.S. was lifted in May.
His appearance in this year’s U.S. Open was his first at the Flushing Grand Slam 2021.
Aaron Rodgers even joked about Djokovic’s vaccination status during this year’s tournament, positing an Instagram story with “#novaxdjokovic” as part of the text.
“Novak is one of the most fit athletes in the world and I think that anybody looking at the situation realizes how ridiculous it was to not allow him into the country with [his] level of fitness and the way he takes care of his body. Like him, I care about health and I was just having a little bit of fun with it,” Rodgers said on Sept. 7.
Djokovic was famously deported from Australia because of his vaccination status in 2022, and he was unable to compete in that year’s Australian Open.
Djokovic described the entire experience as feeling like he was “a villain of the world.”
“I just wanted to compete,” he said, “and I wanted to play tennis because that’s what I do best.”
The interview with McEnroe was not the first time that Djokovic has insisted that his objection to the vaccine was over freedom of choice ideals, as he made similar comments during an interview with the BBC in January 2022.
“I was never against vaccination,” he told the BBC. “But I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
Despite any controversy, he has regained his No. 1 ranking in men’s tennis.
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