Novac Djokovic has won many trophies in his life, but the most valuable and shiniest is his latest: the hearts of millions of people.
It is a trophy he has won in an equally fierce, exhausting, dramatic and breathtaking battle in which he overcame not the usual rivals who challenged him throughout his sports career, but the seven-headed dragon seeking to deprive him of his most precious assets: his personal memories, his dignity, his freedom, his courage and his life principles.
Nole’s decisive strike in this particular final was a simple and clear-cut answer to a question launched at him more like a resigned ultimatum, uncertain and oppressed under its own weight, lacking strength and hopeless. Asked whether he is ready to miss in the future great tournaments which could crown him as the greatest tennis player of all times, Novak answered clearly and without hesitation: yes, I am! If the price for participating in such famous competitions and for the chance to win new titles is accepting medical procedures against his own will and principles, he explained – well, no, he has no intention to pay any such price.1
As expected, the Serb’s firm answer stirred multiple attacks and criticisms, but also a huge wave of sympathy across the world.
Before joining the choir of his supporters, I am tempted to proceed like lawyers do, and answer point by point the accusations brought against him in this voluminous indictment. I’m greatly tempted but I worry that I might get lost in details – collateral victims. A succinct inventory seems the better option, starting with the most absurd and harsh and ending with the most “sophisticated” charges (1). Once the inventory done, I will focus on dotting the proverbial i in this story (2).
1. Should one proceed chronologically, for instance, the first accusations brought against Novak relate to his trip to Melbourne and the alleged procedural violations to the visas and medical certificates regime. I am not properly qualified to assess such violations as per the Australian neo-law, but I cannot repress my stupefaction faced with the final reason given for his extradition: Immigration Minister Hawke asked Novak be sent back home for fear his attitude could contribute to augmenting the “anti-vaccination sentiment” in the local community.2 If “feeding a certain sentiment in the community” is grounds for extradition, and refusing to allow yourself to be injected with an experimental substance comes from a certain “sentiment”, then entering Australia must be now subject to a tax on feelings and a toll on moods.
Then, how should one answer the oafish, dim-witted comment of a “star” like Howard Stern, who asked that Nole be expelled “right the f* out of tennis” too, because he is a “f* nut”, a “f* dummy” and a “f**** asshole”?3 Ignoring it seems the only option.
We then have the accusation that Djokovic’s entire attitude is susceptible of generating social turmoil and, even though he does not declare himself to be a militant “anti-vaxxer”, still, his position might encourage ideologies on the far-right (sic!).4 Another charge – another stone thrown by a madman – unworthy of attention; trying to answer – pearls to pigs.
Yet another approach, meant to appear more “conciliatory” and “wise”, would require the authorities to show respect to the Serb’s option, but at the same time explain to the people that he is fatally wrong and, despite his celebrity status, he cannot be a role-model; that, even though he declares himself openminded, people should not believe him and his decision is completely worthless since – is it not so? – “the vaccine is extremely safe, and much safer than infection or re-infection””.5 This proposition leaves me with only imagination as the last refuge: let’s imagine the admiration, the adulation, the homage that would have poured on Nole had he declared himself “pro-vax”, had he joined the long line of “celebrities” who took selfies with the needle stuck in their arm!6
The position taken by the British authorities after Nole’s interview with the BBC seems to fall along the same lines. This time, however, with the added benefit of a bit of sarcasm from the Health Minister: “It’s interesting to note that Mr. Djokovic thinks it’s OK for sport spectators, all his fans, to take the vaccine that allows him to get back to play the sport in front of them and earn millions again, it’s OK for him to have them take the vaccine, but the vaccine is not OK for him“.7 Well. Not much to say about this either… a cursory comment, though: that Djokovic did neither encourage nor discourage the public or his fans to take the “vaccine”; that tennis tournaments were not resumed thanks to the “vaccines”; that the reference to “millions” earned by Nole, meant to provide stark contrast with the meager salaries of the poor “vaccinated people” and thus ensure their antipathy to Nole, is very cheap rhetoric; and, generally, that the British minister’s “argument” is spurious from head to toe.8
Finally, I conclude my inventory with the “refined-philosophical” approach, which could not have come from any lesser publication that the New York Times. According to this esteemed journal, Djokovic placed himself in the very center of the hottest debate of the “pandemic”: “individual versus community, science versus quackery”, and, in doing so, he “has done potentially irreparable harm to his own image”.9 It’s not entirely clear why a person’s refusal to undertake medical procedures constitutes antisocial behavior, or how could such personal decision amount to “quackery” (especially since “science” itself seems unable to provide absolute truth on this issue, being dominated and inundated by reports, studies and statistics – all “scientific” – which demonstrate that this particular flu poses low risks, that the “protection measures” taken against it are ineffectual, and the “vaccines” produce a plethora of serious adverse effects10). In addition, states the famous American publication, Djokovic’s medical option may have been caused by something of an emotional “derailment”: ‘he was always a little too into “spirituality,” and this is now leading him astray’. A profound issue which leads me to what I believe to be the crux of this entire debate: Djokovic’s alleged “vulnerability” in the eyes of his detractors, his Achille’s heel.
2. I will not use the thesis of Novak’s alleged “spiritual excesses” as pretext to jump to my conclusion, even though I will soon revert to it. Firstly though, please allow me a brief look at the Romanian press – a brief but pertinent detour.
The text I want to visit is entitled “Sclavi imperiali, icoane cât peretele și pa restricții” (“Imperial slaves, icons as large as the wall, and good-by to restrictions”); its author, a well-known local pundit, argues that the champion’s decision not to take the “vaccine” should not be reduced to its merely medical dimension, but rather looked at in a much larger context: “I can’t believe that Djokovic’s problem is just his own body and the vaccine. He is an intelligent man, he cannot be believing that the vaccine could be more harmful to him than covid […] And he knows very well that there is no player in the world to have complained of distressing effects from the vaccine”11. Rebutting these suppositions would waste time and take the attention away from what is truly at stake in this debate, but I will mention in passing that official statistics show that over 400 sportsmen injected with the experimental serums have collapsed mid-game and some even died12 and that, contrary to our local commentator’s presumption, there are tennis players who suffered serious adverse effects from these injections.13
Let’s jump over the intro and go straight to the heart of the “enigma”, of the ultimate explanation for Djokovic’s “recklessness”: “It is possible, however, that the Serbian champion’s attitude has deeper roots than that: Djokovic is more than merely anti-vaccine, he is anti-West. The vaccine is not merely a medical substance, it is a creation of the West. We have all witnessed the hysterical, disgusting nationalism of his close relatives, especially his father, hollering openly that the rotten West conspires against the Djokovic clan and against Serbia. In the Russia v. NATO-EU conflict, Novak and his clan are certainly on the side of Imperial, Slavic and Orthodox Russia – I’ve never seen icons as big as those Djokovic took pictures with alongside Serb and Montenegrin top clergymen [hence the “icon as large as the wall” of the article’s title]. There is only one thing to add: just like the vaccine, tennis itself – the sport he’s been practicing for 30 years and which made Novak Djokovic who he is today, is an invention of the West, not of the Orthodox East…”.
To translate: 1. Nole is much too intelligent to ignore the incontestable benefits brought by the vaccine; 2. Nevertheless, he suspends his intelligence and allows himself to be dominated by sentiments and feelings; 3. An “anti-West” sentiment, “nationalism” and “Orthodox spirit” are chief among these emotional triggers; and 4. Blinded by these passions, Nole, alongside his “clan”, stands beside “Imperial Russia”, forgetting – the lack of humility! – that tennis, the sport that made him the man he is today, was not invented by the backward East, but by the sophisticated West.
I read, translate and read again and feel a need to organize my thoughts before they burst in all directions. Hard to decide where to start…
First, the essential premise: from all I’ve read and heard, Novak never declared himself to be “anti-West”, never accused or criticized “the West”, and never explained his refusal to take the “anti-covid” injection by reference to the ideological or geographical origin of these serums. Therefore, to label him “anti-West” – or “too spiritual”, and I will revert to that – is mere speculation meant to move attention away from the “vaccine” and place the reasons of the Serb’s refusal, forcibly and without warrant, to areas far away from free will and common sense. A sort of: oh well, we know better don’t we, Mr. Anti-West, you cannot fool us, we see right through you…
Second, the accusations – whether implicit or explicit – that Nole and his “clan” would be blinded by “hysterical, disgusting nationalism”, “hollering openly that the rotten West conspires against […] Serbia” and would oppose NATO in a military conflict, again leave me speechless, with a host of questions running though my head. First of all, as far as Novak is concerned, I’ve never heard him hurling accusations against the West in general or NATO in particular, hence the “hysterical nationalist” label is completely inappropriate. Still, I wonder, for the sake of the argument, let’s say Nole did express reproach or accusation against the West and NATO in relation to his own country, what’s not to understand? Why would such hypothetical position be “disgusting”? Should we rather ask him to suddenly become amnesic? To suddenly forget those nights when, at 11 years of age, he was awakened in the dark apartment of the grandfather who had taken him in, shaken by the hellish sounds of NATO’s bombs pummeling Belgrade?14 Should we cut out as politically incorrect those scenes in which he was struggling to stave off sleep in the anti-bomb shelter, long-long hours, his face contorted in fear? Or maybe eliminate those episodes in which he was learning to play that wonderful Western invention called tennis in an abandoned empty pool bombarded by the West? Better still – why not? – let’s accuse him that he did not express sufficient admiration for the Western Powers and their soldiers who, despite the “collateral victims” of the bombardments and blatant violations of international law, brought “peace” and “democracy” back to Serbia!
Having reached this point, I stumble on new questions… Is it possible that the esteemed pundit has forgotten the extraordinary article entitled “Trocul sângelui” (“A bloody deal”) he wrote himself in April 1999, while that immense European tragedy was still unfolding, lamenting both “the nightmare in which an entire people is now trapped, just a few kilometers away from here,” under the heavy, unrelenting NATO attack, as well as the cowardly complicity of the Romanian authorities and “intelligentsia” who were applauding the military intervention against our neighbors?15 Is it the case that he abjures today the firmness with which he was opposing that unjust war and the furious stupefaction that such intervention might be portrayed as a “civilizing act”? As he was writing then: “14 hospitals and 150 schools destroyed – a civilizing act? 14 Orthodox monasteries, churches and cemeteries, a Catholic church and 7 museums hit by bombs – a civilizing act? 17 bridges, 9 railways, 39 factories, 13 refineries, 4 agricultural complexes, one million people left without running water and 500.000 jobless – a civilizing act? If this is the civilization of NATO and its local prophets, I declare myself pithecanthropus”. I wonder how is he reading now the vibrant conclusion of that article, unmerciful indictment against the Romanian intellectuals who were at the time saluting Serbia’s humiliation: ‘Otherwise, dear “civil society”, to the curse proffered by the innocents killed in ’89, on whose unavenged blood a country sick to its bones has been built for the past ten years, you will only add the curse of the tens of thousands killed in Yugoslavia, and the only kind of country that can be built on that scaffold is a Romania with its soul poisoned for a thousand years. A country overwhelmed by endless loneliness, no matter how many NATOs and EUs would give it sanctuary’. If this emotional outcry was at the time sincere and the revolt felt by a Romanian pained by the fate of his neighbors was authentic – and I have no reason to doubt that – then how can one even consider that the stirrings those memories produce in a Serb’s own heart are signs of “hysterical, disgusting nationalism”? Let alone the Serb in question is not just anyone…
The Serb in question is the child his grandfather used to wake from his sleep in the dead of night, carry to the anti-bomb shelter and, upon return, tried to amuse and distract with the most mesmerizing way to peel and slice an apple – with tears in his eyes that scarred the child for life. He is the kid who used to run among ruins and mountains of debris, his tennis bag on his back, looking for a place to practice. He is the teenager who, struggling with the sadness and resentment for all that happened to him, his family and his people, managed in time to take a huge spiritual leap (and “spiritual” is indeed the proper term) and understand that the only redemption possible is, as he himself avows, to come to terms with that past, keep an open mind and soul, learn love and forgiveness.16 He is the champion who declares that he loves tennis “because I still fell the connection with the inner child, the four-year-old boy who took a racket and said you know, I love this sport, I wanna play it all day long”.17 He is the adult who now says “I consider myself and everything as a divine soul”18 and who, asked about the recent Australian drama, preferred to avoid hard sentences and judgments: “God sees everything. Moral and ethics as the greatest ideals are the shining stars towards spiritual ascension. My grace is spiritual and theirs is material wealth.”19 He is the man who, in 2011, upon receiving St. Sava Order, the highest distinction of the Serbian Orthodox Church, said “This is the most important title of my life, because before being an athlete, I am an Orthodox Christian.”20
All these experiences, pains, struggles, thoughts, convictions and beliefs made Novak into the great hero of Serbia and of world sports that he is and, after his latest decision, a symbol of the planetary fight for freedom and for dignity.
The pundits and “experts” who misread his qualities and motivations are right up to a point: his latest decision does indeed have “deeper roots”. These roots do not however lie in political or ideological grounds, in “pseudo-science” or in “quackery”. Instead, his roots borrow deep into an extremely rich and fruitful soil: the human spirit, soaring free.
This is the spirit which makes Nole – as it transpires from his entire being – not anti-(vaccine) but pro- (freedom) and gives him a grace filled with humanism, joy, hope and love. This is a high state of the spirit, richer and more intense than the happiness all trophies and titles and Grand Slams the world would ever have to offer.
 “That fnut Djokovic. What a f* asshole.”…“The first I’ve heard of this guy is that he doesn’t want to get his vaccine. They should throw him right the f* out of tennis. That’s it. Goodbye.”…He added: “You should be out of tennis. He doesn’t care about anyone else.
“Stay away from other people. That’s like saying smoking is a private decision. Well, that’s true. But don’t smoke in my face f***nut. What a dummy. Just a big dumb tennis player.
“If you wanna talk tennis, I’ll talk to you. Other than that, you should shut your mouth.”(https://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/1567836/novak-djokovic-news-tennis-vaccine-wimbledon-spt).
 “While he may not want to be seen as someone actively campaigning against vaccination, the result of his actions are evident. Djokovic has already ensured he will be celebrated by such people and the far right” (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2022/feb/15/novak-djokovic-propensity-self-sabotage-defining-trait-tennis).
 Such a mocking attitude was not unique in the analysis of the case: https://www.republicworld.com/sports-news/tennis-news/novak-djokovic-mocked-by-irish-airline-with-were-not-an-airline-but-we-do-fly-jibe-articleshow.html.
 https://www.tennismajors.com/atp/chardy-puts-his-season-on-hold-due-to-covid-vaccine-complications-501156.html; https://www.sportsmax.tv/other-sports/column1/tennis-other-racket-sports/item/92281-bencic-experiencing-severe-symptoms-after-becoming-latest-covid-19-positive-tennis-player.
 C.T. Popescu, Trocul sângelui, în România abțibild, Editura Polirom, 2000, pag. 83-86.
 https://www .youtube.com/watch?v=QVx687NZ5gE.