Novak Djokovic defended by former mentor after Covid vaccine controversy reignited

Novak Djokovic reacts to his recent media coverage

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Novak Djokovic has been defended by his former ‘guru’ after causing controversy for his vaccination stance this year. The world No 2 made headlines when he arrived in Australia unvaccinated at the start of the year and was ultimately deported. Djokovic was criticised again recently for keeping himself in the Indian Wells draw until the last minute despite United States rules not allowing unvaccinated travellers.

Djokovic has played just one tournament this year, with his vaccination status stopping him from entering several events and countries.

He hit headlines at the start of the year for an 11-day saga which saw him arrive Down Under for the Australian Open unvaccinated despite travel requirements, and had his visa cancelled twice before he was deported on the eve of the tournament.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion finally started his season in Dubai last month where he made the quarter-final, and at the time he all but ruled himself out of Indian Wells after admitting current rules stopped him from travelling.

He also gave an in-depth interview to the BBC in the weeks after his deportation from Australia, admitting he was happy to miss tournaments that required the vaccine as he said: “Yes, that is the price that I’m willing to pay because the principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else.”

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But he caused controversy one again as he kept himself in the draw for Indian Wells, automatically appearing on the list as the world No 2, and did not pull out until after the draw was made.

It meant the draw became imbalanced with Rublev the highest seed in Djokovic’s previous section of the draw, while lucky loser Joao Sousa eventually earned a spot as a lucky loser as many pointed out he shouldn’t have needed to play qualifying if the second seed had withdrawn in time.

The world No 2 explained and announced his late withdrawal on Wednesday, tweeting: “While I was automatically listed in the @BNPPARIBASOPEN and @MiamiOpen draw I knew it would be unlikely I’d be able to travel.

“The CDC has confirmed that regulations won’t be changing so I won’t be able to play in the US. Good luck to those playing in these great tournaments.”

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Djokovic’s former ‘guru’ Pepe Imaz has now defended him amid more controversy and said the Serb’s intentions had been good despite some short-sighted actions.

The coach and former tennis player previously travelled with Djokovic, acting as more of a sounding board to the 86-time title winner.

They still enjoy a good relationship, and Imaz said he had watched the saga unfold from afar.

“As I feel and observe him, everything he has done, he has done with the best intention and desire to help and contribute from the status he has in the world of tennis,” he told AS.

“He has done it from the heart. Some things have been more successful or less. He is a human being and he learns.”

Djokovic’s close friend and confidante also noted that the world No 2 had learned from his mistakes.

He added: “For some he was wrong and he lived the criticism and received it with acceptance and learning. He thus he took them better and digested them.

“He accepted the right to have an opinion of many people, although sometimes we do it too lightly.”

Imaz also slammed those who had criticised the Serb, saying: “The information arrives very blurred and is not very close to reality. Still people dare to launch opinions.

“Having said this, I repeat that everything he has done has been out of a desire to help, not out of interest. Everything he has created has been given to people in need.”

Djokovic will next compete in the Monte Carlo Masters after confirming his participation on his website.

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