Andy Murray said on Monday he does not agree with Novak Djokovic’s stance against the Covid-19 vaccine but believes “it’s not great for tennis if our best player is not competing in the major events”.
Former world number one and three-time major winner Murray was speaking as Djokovic made a succesful return to the sport thanks to a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in Dubai.
It was Djokovic’s first match of 2022 after he was deported from Australia last month for not being vaccinated.
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“I think it would be a lot easier for him obviously if he was to get vaccinated,” Murray said after also making the second round in Dubai after a three-set win over Christopher O’Connell.
“But I also didn’t like seeing him in the situation that he was in Australia as someone that I respect, have known since I was a child.
“There are consequences to the decisions he made just now. He obviously has to accept that. But I don’t think it’s great for tennis if our best player is not competing in the major events. ” Murray battled for nearly three hours against Australian qualifier O’Connell before advancing with a 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 7-5 victory.
As for Djokovic, he is now just one win shy of his goal of reaching 700 career match-wins and could check that item off his bucket list if he comes out victorious in his next clash in Dubai against either Italian No.4 seed Jannik Sinner or Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
World number one Novak Djokovic finally got his season underway in Dubai on Tuesday, playing for the first time this year after being deported from Australia for not being vaccinated.
The Serbian star was greeted by loud cheers from a packed Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium as he kicked off his quest for a sixth title in the Emirates.
“I couldn’t ask for a better reception,” Djokovic said post-match.
“It’s been a while since my last match but I couldn’t have picked a better place to kick-start the season. It was the best possible experience tonight. Thank you for your reception and for welcoming me on the court in the way you did.
“All in all, it’s a straight-sets win so I have to be satisfied with my performance. After not playing for three months, of course there were moments where I played great, moments where I made a couple of unforced errors in a row, uncharacteristically.
“But it’s normal to expect that, in my first match after a while. But I’m glad I could finish off the match against a talented player. “
The 34-year-old’s hopes of winning the 10th Australian Open, and the 21st Grand Slam, in Melbourne last month were shattered when he had his visa canceled and was deported.
Djokovic can play in Dubai as a coronavirus vaccine is not a requirement to enter the United Arab Emirates.
He spoke to reporters on Monday how it felt to be back on the tennis circuit, and whether there has been any negative reaction from his peers.
“So far here most of the players that I’ve seen have been positive and welcoming. It’s nice to see obviously. I can’t say that was the case in Australia. It was a little bit strange. But here it’s well so far, ”he said.
Rafael Nadal, who in Djokovic’s absence won the Australian Open, offered long-distance support.
“Vaccinated or unvaccinated, let Novak play again,” Nadal said at a press conference ahead of the Mexican Open, in Acapulco, where he and world number two Daniil Medvedev are playing.
Victory in Melbourne was Nadal’s 21st at a major, moving him one clear of Djokovic and Roger Federer on the all-time list. Nadal said the Serb’s absence was distorting the records.
“It will affect his history, whether he can play or not, it will affect himself, the Grand Slams, I don’t know what,” Nadal said, although he added that “we are talking about small things within a world that has suffered in every way ”.
Djokovic is a five-time winner in Dubai and finally started his season with a point to prove and his number-one ranking under threat.
Even if he wins in Dubai, Djokovic could lose the top spot, which he has held since February 2020, to Medvedev.
If Djokovic defends his status this week, his refusal to get vaccinated could cause problems and cost him ranking points, particularly with two Masters tournaments coming up in the United States.
He is on the entry list at Indian Wells from March 7 to 20, even though it is currently restricted to vaccinated players. That is followed by the Miami Open from March 21 to April 3.
“I just have to follow the rules. Whatever tournament that I’m able to play, I’ll be trying to get to that country and play the tournament, “Djokovic said on Monday.
“I really can’t choose right now. It’s really about where I can go and play. Wherever I have an opportunity, I’ll be using probably that opportunity and going to play because this is what I do, it’s what I love to do still. ”
There are still three more Grand Slam tournaments to play this year – the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Each has potential significance as Djokovic battles Nadal for the record. In Mexico, Nadal refused to be drawn on whether he, Djokovic or Federer could claim to be the greatest of all time.
“It’s not for me to talk about that because I’m an involved party,” Nadal said, adding that all three “had achieved more than we would have dreamed of.”
“There could be arguments of different kinds that could give that title that you like so much of ‘the best in history’ to anyone,” he said.
“It’s a question of individual taste.”