Novak Djokovic has hit out at the media for what he says were incorrect reports regarding his infamous deportation from Australia last summer.
Djokovic is back on Australian shores hoping to claim a 10th Australian Open title, but says he has not forgotten about the events of last year that caused his brand significant “harm”.
“I was really drawn into a storm in media worldwide that was related to anything to do with COVID and the vaccine,” he told 9News Melbourne.
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“All of a sudden I became the villain of the world which is obviously a terrible position to be in as an athlete.”
Djokovic revealed that he went into hiding in Serbia immediately after his deportation, opening up on the toll the saga had on his loved ones.
“There was not a great narrative in the media about me at all,” he said.
“I stayed for several weeks at home, didn’t really go around too much. I just hoped that the situation would calm down, which it did, but the traces stayed there.
“The traces followed for several months after and I didn’t know it was going to affect my game and the way I play. It was not easy for me mentally to regroup and restart again.
“The traces of what was happening, I could still feel it. In every press conference I was asked at least one or two questions about Australia and what happened. Even if I wanted to move on, people were reminding me of that.”
Djokovic said he understood the frustrations of Melburnians who last year resented the fact that he had initially received a vaccine exemption to enter the country after the city had been subjected for many months to some of the harshest COVID-19 lockdowns in the world. Djokovic says the facts had been misrepresented.
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“I understood why they were frustrated, but I have to say the media presented it in a completely wrong way because that’s not what happened, and a lot of people still have the wrong idea about what happened,” he said.
“There were two or three more people that came into Australia 10 days before I did with exactly the same exemption that I had and I was just following the rules.
“My exemption was verified by an independent body and panel of doctors, so it was unknown who was giving the request, and I came in with all the valid papers.
“Everything got out of hand and then I was labeled as this or that. It was so big in the media that I just could not fight that, I didn’t even want to get into that.
“I obviously wanted to stay here and play tennis, but at some point with the amount of craziness going around I just wanted to get out and go back home.”
Djokovic claimed that the media had “picked on me big time” when discussing the impact of the saga on his overall legacy.
“It’s still unfortunate and it hurts me that most of the people will have a wrong idea about what happened. That’s what hurts me the most,” he said.
“The media has picked on me big time for several months and not in a positive note, so that has created a lot of disturbance to my brand and to me personally and people around me.
“It is something that you have to accept and deal with at the moment. I wouldn’t say that it is something that would destroy or eliminate everything that I have achieved on and off the court throughout my career.
“It was so impactful and it echoed so far around the world that a lot of people will still talk about and remember it for a long time and it is something that is going to follow me for some time.”
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