Novak Djokovic has said he would rather miss out on future tennis trophies than be forced to get a Covid vaccine.
Speaking exclusively to the BBC, he said missing competitions, such as the French Open, over his jab status was “the price that I’m willing to pay”.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner was deported from Australia last month after the government cancelled his visa in a row over his vaccine status.
Djokovic described the conditions while he was detained as “very hard”.
He said he had not spoken out in the media at the time – despite wanting to – as he wanted to respect the legal process and the Australian Open.
The world’s number one men’s tennis player also said he should not be associated with the anti-vax movement, but supported an individual’s right to choose.
He said he had obtained a medical exemption to enter the country to play in the Australian Open as he had recently recovered from Covid-19.
However, the country’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, personally cancelled the 34-year-old’s visa, on the grounds that his presence could incite “civil unrest” and encourage anti-vaccine sentiment.
“I was never against vaccination,” he told the BBC, confirming he’d had vaccines as a child, “but I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.”
In a wide-ranging interview, his first since he was detained in Melbourne in January, Djokovic addressed speculation about the timing of his positive Covid case in December and discussed his own attitude towards the vaccine.
Djokovic said he hoped vaccination requirements in certain tournaments would change, adding he was hoping he “can play for many more years”.
But he also confirmed he was willing to forego the chance to become statistically the greatest male tennis player of all time because he felt so strongly. Djokovic’s rival, Rafael Nadal, has won 21 Grand Slam singles titles – the most of any male competitor.
Asked why, Djokovic replied: “Because the principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I’m trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can.”
Djokovic said he had “always been a great student of wellness, wellbeing, health, nutrition,” and his decision had been partly influenced by the positive impact factors such as changing his diet and his sleeping patterns had had on his abilities as an athlete.
He said he was “keeping [his] mind open” about the possibility of being vaccinated in the future, “because we are all trying to find collectively, a best possible solution to end Covid”.
“I was never against vaccination. 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,” he said.