He’s a tree-hugger who insists Bosnia’s ‘pyramids’ give off mystic energy and that positive thoughts can PURIFY water… as the tennis star is told to LEAVE Australia after visa row led to an airport stand-off, welcome to the Wacky World of Novak Djokovic
- Novak Djokovic denied entry into Australia after officials rejected player’s visa
- After an airport stand-off which lasted hours, the Government cancelled his visa
- Team applied for a visa that doesn’t support vax exemption on medical grounds
- It is just the latest controversial episode in the life of the 34-year-old tennis star
Novak Djokovic’s status as one of this century’s greatest athletes is undisputed – not a description that could ever be applied to his views on health matters.
The fanatical quest to continually improve himself as a tennis player is mirrored by an obsessive curiosity about how best to curate his physical and mental well-being. At times it has dragged him into the realms of faddism and quackery, sometimes dangerously so.
Indirectly, this endless search led him to the immigration detention room at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport, where Wednesday’s surreal drama was playing out.
Where Djokovic goes, controversy often follows. It is due to his curious mix of passion, fierce intelligence and temperament, and a sometimes stunning lack of self-awareness.
Novak Djokovic was told he would not be granted entry into Australia on Wednesday after the government rejected his visa, as it did not support vaccine exemption on medical grounds
It is just the latest controversial episode involving Djokovic (left) and his wife Jelena (right)
This latest episode stems back 36 hours to his triumphant-sounding announcement that he had circumvented vaccine requirements for an undisclosed reason, and was heading for Australia.
The cocksure nature of his social media post was ill-judged, and invited the ire of a population who have been subjected to more lockdowns than anywhere in the world. He possesses not just an extraordinary athletic ability, but a giant pair of tin ears.
This brutal collision with public opinion – not to mention opportunistic Australian politicians – has been a long time coming, a course plotted since the onset of the pandemic.
Soon after it broke out he took part in a live Facebook discussion with other Serbian sportspeople.
‘Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,’ he said. ‘But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision.’
Djokovic took to social media earlier in the week to reveal he had got a medical exemption
The roots of his beliefs on health are entrenched beyond Covid, back to the beginning of the last decade. It was then that he diagnosed himself as having a wheat allergy by pressing a slice of bread into his stomach.
Always a profound thinker with a sharp mind – he has taught himself to converse in seven languages, for example – the more success he has had, the more interested he has become in the workings of body and spirit.
In 2016 he began working Spanish coach Pepe Imaz, a strong believer in meditation whose theories extend to, literally, the power of hugging trees. He instituted the ‘peace and love’ gestures that accompany the Serb’s post-match victories.
When Djokovic began developing elbow problems the following year he tried holistic cures before eventually opting for conventional surgery. He later revealed that he cried for three days afterwards, at his failure to solve the issue through natural medicine.
Djokovic, who was all smiles when he landed in Australia on Wednesday, is obsessed with holistic cures and once revealed he cried for three days after he had conventional surgery
By then he was already a strong believer in using hyperbaric chambers, actually bringing a mobile version on a lorry to be parked up at Flushing Meadows for the US Open.
It was not until the virus stopped the world in its tracks that the full extent of his left-field views became more evident.
After his Facebook exchange – which earned him a public rebuke from one of Serbia’s leading epidemiologists – he participated in live Instagram feeds with his friend, self-styled health entrepreneur Chervin Jafarieh.
At one point they promoted the idea that the power of positive thought could cleanse polluted water into the kind that was safely drinkable.
Meanwhile on the same social media his wife Jelena had a false information warning slapped on a post she shared, linking the outbreak to 5G telecommunication masts.
And then came his organisation of the ill-fated Adria Tour, a series of exhibitions around the Balkans which stuck two fingers up at any Covid restrictions. Amid nightclub carousing and close quarters games of basketball many of its participants – including Djokovic and his wife – tested positive for the virus.
Jelena Djokovic, the wife of world No 1 tennis player Novak, was given a ‘false information’ label by Instagram last year after sharing a conspiracy theory that 5G has helped cause coronavirus
Djokovic’s (top) online chats with Chevrin Jafarieh (bottom) became notorious in the pandemic
The experience chastened him, but it has not dampened his enthusiasm for spiritual searching. He is, for instance, a regular visitor to the ‘Bosnian pyramids’ which some believe give off a mystic energy.
These are a set of pointed hills which a local archaeologist claims are man-made, an idea condemned as a complete hoax by other experts.
Now his unorthodox approach may see his best chance of edging beyond his rivals in the chase for Grand Slams at least severely dented.
Level on 20 Major titles with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, he should already be in the lead, and to many neutrals is already the greatest men’s player ever.
He would almost certainly be on 21 had he not lashed away a ball in anger at a line judge in the 2020 US Open fourth round, and been defaulted.
However this latest turbulence plays out, it comes when he is turning 35 next May, and at a time when the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Alex Zverev are proving themselves to be genuine threats to his hegemony on the court.
The Serbian (far right) hosted the ill-fated Adria Tour event in the middle of the pandemic – and it had to be ended prematurely after a number of the players contracted the virus
Djokovic (left centre) and fellow tennis stars partied in a Belgrade nightclub in June 2020, with some of the players taking their shirts off during the riotous evening
Away from the sport’s rectangles many have already condemned him, although his views on vaccines are more nuanced than sometimes portrayed.
At the ATP Tour event in Belgrade earlier this year, which he and his family own, he arranged for those who wanted the jab to be able to get it on site.
It should also be said that no athlete is recorded as having given more to charity through the pandemic than he has done.
There is also his work in trying to drive through a tennis players’ union at no gain to himself, being as wealthy as he is.
He has always insisted that his vaccine stance is about freedom of choice and what someone puts inside their body. Given the opportunity he has missed out on in Melbourne, his continuing stance could be seen as one of principled self-denial, as well as self-defeating.
One group who will always support him, if he ever returns, is the large Serbian population of Victoria. A few of them have been known to attend the Australian Open wearing T-shirts bearing a slogan that has never seemed more appropriate: ‘Novak Against The World.’
Djokovic lashed away a ball in anger at a line judge in the 2020 US Open fourth round
After hitting line judge Laura Clark in the throat, the world No 1 was disqualified from the event
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