Novak Djokovic feels ‘motivated’ to move past vaccine controversy and compete again
MONACO — Novak Djokovic is ready to come out of the controversy surrounding his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I miss the competition,” the Serbian tennis star said on the opening day of the clay-court season at the Monte-Carlo Masters in Monaco on Sunday. “I still feel the motivation to be on the tour and compete…and try to challenge the best players in the world for the biggest titles.”
The 20-time Grand Slam champion has only played one tournament so far in 2022, losing to Jiri Vesely in the quarter-finals of the Dubai Championships.
Djokovic was unable to defend his Australian Open title in January after being kicked out of the country for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.
More recently, he had to skip tournaments in Indian Wells, California and Miami because he couldn’t make it to the United States for the same reason.
He said he would not get vaccinated in order to compete.
2022 has been a turbulent year for Djokovic, who was detained and prosecuted during an 11-day saga in Australia before being sent home.
Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open for his 21st major trophy, breaking a tie with Djokovic and Roger Federer.
At the end of February, Djokovic lost his No. 1 ranking for the first time in two years, slipping to No. 2 behind Daniil Medvedev, before regaining the top spot.
And on March 1, Djokovic announced that he and coach Marian Vajda were parting ways after 15 years together.
“The last four or five months have been really tough for me mentally and emotionally, but I’m here and trying to put all of that behind me and move on,” Djokovic said on Sunday.
His opening match in Monaco is scheduled for Tuesday.
Authorities in France and Monaco lifted most COVID-19 restrictions last month, allowing unvaccinated people to enter the country and re-enter restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.
With his 2021 French Open title still fresh in his mind, Djokovic proclaimed that the clay courts of Monaco are the best surface to stage his comeback even though “historically it’s not my most successful surface”.
“I will try to use [the French Open title] as inspiration to start the clay-court season in the best possible way,” Djokovic said. “I understand that I probably won’t be at my best, especially at the start.”
He added that “it will take time, a few games, to really get into the rhythm.”
The French Open starts on May 22 in Paris.