The furor over Novak Djokovic’s immigration fight has thoroughly overshadowed the tennis being played this week before the Australian Open, and Andy Murray, one of Djokovic’s longtime rivals, weighed in minutes after reaching the singles final of the Sydney International.
“I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down,” said Murray, a former world No. 1. “I said it the other day — it’s not a good situation for anyone.”
Murray, like many players and fans, was unclear on what might come next; after his visa was canceled a second time, Djokovic’s lawyers were soon back in court for a hearing on Friday night.
But Murray said he was eager for the situation to be resolved.
“I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case,” he said. “It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now and yeah — not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak. Obviously, a lot of people have criticized the government here as well. It’s not been good.”
Murray said he would encourage people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and also believed they should be allowed to have the choice to decline the shot, as Djokovic has.
“But there are also consequences sometimes for those decisions,” Murray said. “The lady who gave me my third jab, she works in the hospital in Central London, and she told me that every single person that is in the I.C.U. and on ventilators are all people that are unvaccinated. So to me, it makes sense for people to go ahead and have it done.
“Yes, most young, sort-of-healthy athletes are probably going to be O.K., but yeah, we’ve all got to play our part in this one, I think.”
At the Open’s qualifying tournament at Melbourne Park, crowds have been sparse this year, but the drama around Djokovic’s presence in the country was on nearly everyone’s mind on Friday.
“I love my tennis, but I think this is irrespective of tennis to be honest,” said Tom Rundle, a 58-year-old from Adelaide wearing a broad-brimmed hat. “This is a bigger issue. Everyone needs to follow the rules, and the government has been quite firm on it from six months ago really about being vaccinated. I don’t think this is us doing the wrong thing by Novak; it’s about following the rules, unfortunately.”
Petr Tretinik, a 37-year-old Melbourne resident from Slovakia, said that he had long followed Djokovic’s career closely and had returned to the Australian Open this year hoping to watch him again.
“This is his tournament, and I think it’s a big loss for the Australian Open,” Tretinik said, standing next to Rod Laver Arena, where Djokovic won his nine previous Australian Open singles titles. “His face is everywhere here at the tournament and if you just walk around in the city and take the trams.
“But it is what it is. At some stage I think it’s becoming again like vaccinated against the nonvaccinated, and if Novak plays the tournament it will then be like a big win for antivaxxers. It’s a tricky situation.”
Roger Rasheed, an Australian who has coached several leading players, including the former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, said Djokovic should accept the second cancellation of his visa, rather than trying to contest the government’s decision. A hearing related to his appeal is scheduled for Saturday morning.
“I think there’s a time when you’ve got to do what’s right for the greater good and what’s right for the sport and your peers,” Rasheed said. “And actually step away and say, ‘I’ll come back another year and do this again.’ The circumstances are unfortunate, but it’s a very volatile climate.”