Australian top tennis player Nicholas Kyrgios condemned his government for the “really bad” handling of Serbian champion Novak Djokovic’s visa cancelation on Friday, imploring Canberra to “do better.”
Kyrgios’ criticism of the situation – in response to Djokovic allegedly having insufficient documentation to receive an exemption from the national coronavirus vaccine mandate, Border Force tossed him into a notoriously inhumane migrant detention center –is notable both because he is the first high-profile Australian tennis player to weigh in on the situation and because of years of criticism and personal conflict with Djokovic. Kyrgios has also been a vocal proponent of social distancing measures and vaccines, and has arguably taken a considerable career hit by missing tournaments throughout 2020 out of concern over the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
Djokovic, in contrast, attempted to organize his own tournament in 2020, the Adria Tour, that abruptly ended when Djokovic and several other players at the event tested positive for coronavirus. The tour prompted widespread outrage and ridicule after videos surfaced of Djokovic and others partying at a night club during the event at the height of the first wave of the pandemic.
Australian authorities apprehended Djokovic and moved him into a migrant facility shortly after his arrival in Melbourne this week. Djokovic himself had stated in a social media post that he had received a medical “exemption” to coronavirus vaccines and evidence suggests that he present paperwork from Tennis Australia, the country’s governing tennis body, upon arrival.
The prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, confirmed that the country had revoked Djokovic’s visa to enter on the grounds that existing paperwork was not sufficient to grant him a vaccine exemption.
Djokovic was traveling to attend the Australian Open, one of four Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Djokovic has won the Australian Open nine times, more than any other male player.
Kyrgios, in a post on Twitter on Friday, described his government’s treatment of Djokovic as “really bad.”
“Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human,” Kyrgios wrote. “Do better.”
Look I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mums health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad. Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) January 7, 2022
Kyrgios teased further commentary in an upcoming podcast not yet released at press time.
Kyrgios is currently the number 93 ranked player in the world, largely do to abstaining from travel during the pandemic. At his peak, he made the quarterfinals at two separate Grand Slam tournaments and reached a number 13 ranking. He has a short, but perfect, record against Djokovic, one of few men on the tour who can say the same.
The two players had minimal interactions before Kyrgios mocked Djokovic on a podcast in 2019, expressing distaste for him personally.
“I just feel like he has a sick obsession with wanting to be liked. He just wants to be like Roger [Federer]. For me personally—I don’t care right now, I’ve come this far — I feel like he just wants to be liked so much that I just can’t stand him,” Kyrgios said at the time, calling his celebrations after wins “cringeworthy.”
Kyrgios also asserted that Djokovic “will never be the greatest” in history due to his own record against the champion.
“I’ve played him twice and like, I’m sorry, but if you can’t beat me, you’re not the greatest of all time,” Kyrgios said.
In January 2020, before the pandemic had begun to spread in Australia, Kyrgios bizarrely barged into a Djokovic doubles match in Brisbane with some friends, apparently just to jeer his fellow player.
“This moron and his group of thug mates dressed in black turned up, sat in eye view of Nole [Djokovic] and blatantly stood up and cheered and sniggered at Serbia’s errors,” a Djokovic fan at the event wrote at the time. “What an idiot!”
Kyrgios was especially derisive towards Djokovic for the Adria Tour disaster, accusing him of disrespect for people suffering from both coronavirus and mandatory lockdowns.
His remarks in support of the champion on Friday were not entirely a surprise, however. Kyrgios had apparently defended Djokovic’s right not to get vaccinated in another podcast in November – though he did so tangentially, more ardently defending NBA star Kyrie Irving. Kyrgios is an avid NBA fan.
“That was unexpected, knowing what was coming from him towards me in the last couple of years,” Djokovic said at the time when asked about Kyrgios’ opposition to vaccine mandates, laughing. “But this time I must agree with him that the freedom of choice is essential for everyone, whether it’s me or somebody else.
Last month, Kyrgios lamented that a Djokovic absence – as well as the absence of Federer and Rafael Nadal, all three of whom share the record for most Grand Slam victories won – would be a “disaster” for the sport.
“I honestly don’t know Novak’s current situation with anything Covid-related or what he needs to play. I hope he’s had a good Christmas and I hope he’s able to play in the sport for as long as possible because I’ve voiced before I think Federer, Nadal and Djokovic need to be (playing),” Kyrgios said then. “If all three aren’t there, it’s a disaster. It’s an absolute disaster for the fans and the people that enjoy tennis.”
Nadal has since confirmed he will be at the tournament. He has also taken a much more critical stand against Djokovic on vaccine mandates than Kyrgios.
“In a way, I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew perfectly the conditions for many months. He made his own decision,” Nadal told reporters this week. “If you do that, if you get vaccinated, you can be here. You can play in the Australian Open and wherever. The world has suffered enough to not follow the rules.”
Djokovic has been largely responsible for Nadal possessing only one Australian Open championship; his absence would make Nadal an automatic candidate for champion this year, although Nadal recently overcame a coronavirus infection himself and has struggled with knee injuries.