JANUARY 17, 2022
Clive Brunskill//Getty Images for Laver Cup
Tennis legends John McEnroe and Chris Evert debated Novack Djokovic’s deportation from Australia during a television interview Sunday, causing McEnroe to backtrack after learning about Djokovic’s actions while knowingly infected with COVID-19.
During a discussion with ESPN’s Chris McKendry, McEnroe called the ordeal over Djokovic’s vaccine status ahead of the Australian Open “total and utter chaos.”
He described it as an “absolute joke.”
“It’s sad the way it ended,” McEnroe said. “I actually texted Novak during this, it’s total BS.”
Djokovic, the top tennis player in the world, was deported from Australia Sunday after losing his court appeal to stay in the country while unvaccinated against COVID-19.
The Australian government deemed Djokovic a health risk, but Djokovic said he had a medical exemption and was approved for travel to the country for the Open.
The back-and-forth drama lasted days after Djokovic’s visa was initially canceled on January 6. But after a court ruled Djokovic could stay, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his powers to deport the tennis star.
Djokovic is the all-time winningest player at the Australian Open and was set to win his record 10th title at the tournament. This setback will also prevent him from winning a record 21st Grand Slam title. His deportation order will ban him from the country for three years.
STATEMENT BY NOVAK DJOKOVIC
12 January 2022https://t.co/qhreHUYlQ8
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 12, 2022
McEnroe lauded Djokovic for his passion and called him “gutsy” for sticking to his beliefs and fighting for his chance to make history at the tournament.
Evert blamed the debacle on a “disconnect” between tennis authorities, local government and federal officials and criticized authorities for being “wishy-washy” and dragging out the issue.
Evert said Djokovic was “misled” into believing his medical exemption was approved and noted the possible role of politics in the decision. However, she ultimately agreed with the decision.
“At the end of the day, nobody is above the law,” she said. “And there should not be anybody exempt from the laws, especially when it applies to the health and the safety of the country.”
Then, the conversation turned to Djokovic’s actions after he knew he was COVID-positive and his “mistake” filling out travel forms.
Djokovic said he mistakenly marked “no” on a form asking whether he traveled within 14 days of landing in Australia. He also sat for an interview and photoshoot for a French newspaper in December while he was knowingly infected with COVID, according to the Associated Press.
McKendry said Djokovic’s behavior “came back to get him” during the second court hearing, noting the way he behaved knowing he was infected “concerned” the court.
McEnroe was unsure about the details, but McKendry clarified that Djokovic himself confirmed the incident and called it “an error of judgment.”
Evert said it’s “borderline criminal” to knowingly expose someone to COVID.
After learning this information, McEnroe seemingly eased back on his vehement defense of Djokovic.
“I see,” McEnroe said. “Well that hurts, that hurt him.”