Sport is second in the country: Amritraj on the Djokovic saga | Tennis News
Vijay Amritraj was adamant in his assessment of the Novak Djokovic saga that unfolded in Melbourne on the eve of the Australian Open. “If you choose not to take the vaccine, play in countries that allow it,” Amritraj said.
The 68-year-old tennis legend, who is still recovering from a bad case of Covid-19, followed from his Los Angeles home the Australian Federal Court’s decision to uphold Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel the visa of the world’s No. 1.
“While the choice to get vaccinated may be the player’s,” Amritraj said in an exclusive chat with TOI, “the choice has consequences.”
What lessons can tennis learn from Djokovic’s story?
This whole situation has been mishandled in various ways. If you go back to our Davis Cup final in 1974, the government decided not to play against South Africa. Then again in 1987, it was the prerogative of the government not to play against Israel. My meeting with the Prime Minister at the time moved things forward and we ended up playing this tie.
When you watch something like this, the sport will and should always go second in the country. Country first and that decision is made by the government. So whatever the decision – good, bad or indifferent – you comply with what the government says. If you need to be vaccinated to enter my country, then that’s it. It is what it is and no one should try to erase the law.
As Djokovic says, the choice to get vaccinated is yours, but so are the consequences.
Do you think the events of the past few days would shake Djokovic’s mental fiber when he returns to the Tour?
He is mentally the toughest competitor in the world. He’s probably mentally tougher than anyone I’ve seen in the last 40-50 years. I think you should probably go back to Connors to see if you can find a guy with that mental toughness.
It doesn’t take anything away from the way Nadal plays, how tough he is from the first ball. Federer seems to be a bit more graceful, gallant and chivalrous, but that doesn’t mean he’s not competing. He just makes it look easy.
That said, every unplayed Grand Slam is a lost Grand Slam for Djokovic. This is where he is in his career, at his age. He enters the four Grand Slam tournaments as the favorite par excellence, even potentially at Roland-Garros. So every lost quarter is going to make a difference, every Slam would be crucial as he continues to chase history.
Will it tarnish Djokovic’s legacy?
You would be amazed at how many followers Djokovic has around the world. He is loved and respected in his country. I think they see it as a way to keep Serbia on the world map. He has more followers than people think because we are all in love with Roger (Federer) and Rafa (Nadal) and we keep talking about it. There were so many people who were upset when he lost that final match at the US Open last year, a win would have written him down in the history books. After this final, he had the vote of sympathy.
So, will this tarnish his image? Probably short term, until he wins Wimbledon or comes back from two match points in a Slam final or something. Then things will look different again.
Would a vaccination mandate have helped avoid this rather embarrassing sequence of events?
At some point, it turned from a medical issue to a political issue. Considering everything we’ve been through for the past two years, I don’t understand why getting vaccinated is a choice rather than a mandate. Keep it strictly medical, listen to the experts, get the shot and the booster.