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Novak Djokovic said missing Grand Slam tournaments over his vaccine status is “the price” that he’s “willing to pay” during an interview with the BBC. (Video: Reuters)

The world’s top-ranked men’s tennis player, Novak Djokovic, said in an interview broadcast Tuesday that he had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus and was prepared to forgo playing in Grand Slam tournaments rather than be forced to take a shot.

In an interview with BBC News, the Serbian star said it was a “misconception” and “wrong conclusion” that he was part of the anti-vaccine movement, stating that he supported the freedom to choose.

“I was never against vaccination,” Djokovic said. “I understand that globally, everyone is trying to put a big effort into handling this virus … but I’ve always represented and always supported the freedom to choose what you put into your body, and for me that is essential.”

Tennis star Novak Djokovic’s refusal to get vaccinated makes him an outlier in the sports world — but he’s not alone. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Asked whether he was prepared to skip major tournaments such as the French Open and Wimbledon, Djokovic said: “Yes, that is the price that I’m willing to pay. . . . The principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I’m trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can.”

Djokovic, 34, was deported from Australia in January after a nearly two-week saga that included court challenges, visa cancellations and a stay at an immigration detention hotel as protesters and supporters stood vigil outside. The government canceled his visa on the grounds that his presence in the country might incite anti-vaccine sentiment and “civil unrest.”

Governments, employers and public health officials globally have encouraged coronavirus vaccination and championed its primary role in quelling the spread of the deadly virus. In many countries, those who are unvaccinated face the loss of their jobs and greater travel restrictions.

People who are vaccinated and boosted have considerable protection from serious illness, top health officials have said, with the unvaccinated more vulnerable to death and hospitalization from covid-19. Health officials have also argued that getting vaccinated helps to protect others, including the immunocompromised.

Novak Djokovic is out of the Australian Open. But what about the other Grand Slams?

Djokovic said he understood that he was part of a global sport and that not being able to travel freely because of his unvaccinated status could hinder his career.

“I understand the consequences of my decision,” he said. Djokovic has won the French Open twice, including in 2021, and has six Wimbledon titles, including the past three.

Although he has been championed by those in the global anti-vaccine movement, “I have never said that I’m part of that,” he added.

Djokovic’s deportation had sparked a diplomatic crisis, with Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic claiming the tennis star was the victim of a “political witch hunt,” as Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the decision, noting that Australians “have made many sacrifices during this pandemic … and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.”

Djokovic said in the BBC News interview that he sympathized with the people of Australia who had to endure a strict and lengthy lockdown and understood the “frustrations” toward him.

“I would like to say that I always followed the rules,” he said. “I never used my privileged status to get into Australia by force or do anything in this entire process.”

Novak Djokovic deported, won’t compete in Australian Open after bid to play unvaccinated fails

Last month’s Australian Open men’s title was won by Spanish star Rafael Nadal, who at the time said he felt “sorry” for his rival over the uproar but noted that Djokovic knew the risks. Nadal said he supported vaccination and that it was “normal” for people in Australia to feel “very frustrated with the case.”

Djokovic, who has tested positive for the virus twice, said he has never downplayed the severity of covid-19 — which has so far killed more than 5.8 million people globally.

“Millions of people have and are still struggling with covid around the world, so I take this very seriously,” he said.

He also did not rule out getting vaccinated in the future, stating, “I keep my mind open.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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