Sunday, January 16, 2022

Djokovic will soon have to face reality and get vaccinated – or retire

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The world No. 1 can’t add many more Grand Slams to his roster if he has to contend with border controls or restricted movement at every tournament he attends

Over on Center Court, Andy Murray watched his title defense evaporate in a haze of hip pain and big serve as Sam Querrey won 12 of the last 14 games to complete a five-set win.

At Wimbledon in 2017, two great champions left the seat en route to the operating table, although neither of them knew it at the time.

With SW19’s sweetheart in the middle, the No. 1 spot for Djokovic’s quarterfinals was pretty thin as he was expected to finish off Tomas Berdych with relative ease. An excitement started brewing when the Czech player pinched a tight first set in a tie-break and Djokovic asked the coach to work on his right arm. Two games later, he quietly walked to his chair, picked up his bag and left the court with his head bowed.

The 30-year-old admitted afterward that the pain had increased throughout the year and that doctors had mentioned surgery – but no one was entirely sure how to fix the problem. It was only half the story. He urged alternative solutions, but eventually agreed to go under the knife.

It was only a year later that the inner turmoil that Djokovic was going through was revealed.

“I just cried for two or three days,” he said The Daily Telegraph.

“Every time I thought about what I was doing, I felt like I had failed myself.”

Djokovic’s distress stemmed from his belief that human bodies are “self-healing mechanisms” and from a strict devotion to a lifestyle that the phrase “clean living” barely covers, and which differs in many ways from conventional science.

The moment that a Marvel film was identified as the origin of the modern Djokovic superhero — it’s not unreasonable to draw parallels to the world of fiction, given the subject matter — came in 2010, when a nutritionist pulled his arm down while the player was holding it a piece of bread in the other hand. The diagnosis was a gluten allergy and the freshly wheat-free Djokovic won three Grand Slam titles the following year.

In 2016 he recruited tennis coach Pepe Imaz, or rather, Imaz recruited him for his special wellness school that focuses on meditation, veganism and extra long hugs. (Djokovic is now a pescetarian after it was decided his muscle fibers needed the strength that came from the protein in fish.)

His most recent, and perhaps best-publicized, connection to the world of alternative science is his friendship with Chervin Jafarieh, a self-proclaimed health expert and mentor who sells products like “Organic Longevity Mushroom Syrup” (a month’s supply of which will cost you). £40) to improve beauty, immunity and ‘balance’. In a video as part of Djokovic’s Self Mastery Project series, world No. 1 Jafarieh spoke of people he knew he could “through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, the most toxic foods or the most could transform polluted water into the most wholesome water”.

Perhaps inevitably, this obsession with toxins extended to vaccination, which he said on record opposed the mandate and made him a poster child of the anti-vaccination movement. However, Djokovic does not identify as anti-vaccination, just someone who wants to make his own choices about what goes into his body and coincidentally someone who made his choice on December 16 when he contracted Covid-19 , it not to be vaccinated. The difference will be a key bone of contention if his lawyers appeal Alex Hawke’s decision to deport him from Australia for fear of igniting anti-vaccination sentiment.

Djokovic could win his appeal and return to Serbia in a couple of weeks as a conquering hero after overcoming the global conspiracy against the Balkan state, championing ultimate freedom of expression (which somehow extends to vaccinations) and beating what he sees as the biased, biased legal system of Australia – his father will probably compare him to Jesus Christ again.

But that will be victory in battle, not war. Because the war is in vain. Vaccination is the only way out of this pandemic. The virus may be mutating out of dangerous territory, but best guesses suggest we have another five or six years in which the word Covid will be constantly on our minds.

Had it not been for the powerful coalition of Djokovic’s existing international fanbase and the world’s growing group of mask-burning maniacs turning him into an anti-Vaxx hero (a new Karl Marxx, if you will), he would have quietly gotten the vaccine and can continue. It’s possible that was his plan all along. He did it with the elbow surgery when the choice was to retire or have surgery.

The same applies to the vaccine: unvaccinated people are increasingly restricted in their freedoms; For Djokovic, international travel is becoming more and more difficult, maybe even impossible. For example, you cannot imagine that he will return to Australia next year without having received the vaccination. France is also moving in this direction and the US border is almost impregnable. Even in the UK, he will likely have to isolate for 10 days upon arrival unless he can find a Pfizer drop-in center on his way.

Within a year, a tennis career that ends with Djokovic as the greatest of all time will no longer be possible without vaccination. As Andy Murray said on Friday: “Ultimately, people have to make their own decisions. But sometimes there are consequences for these decisions.”

And that’s exactly what Djokovic is facing now: a choice, a decision and a consequence. He has to live with all three.

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