NOVAK DJOKOVIC paid the price for his anti-vax stance during the Australian Open.
The world’s No1 tennis player was held under guard in the makeshift Aussie detention centre — where asylum seekers say they have been served maggot-riddled food.
Novak Djokovic said in 2020: ‘Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel’
One of 33 immigration detainees at the down-at-heel Park Hotel in Melbourne, the now 35-year-old was only allowed out under escort.
It is a humbling experience for a man whose genius on the court is matched by his eccentricities off it.
With a record-equalling 20 Grand Slam titles and said to be worth $220million, Djokovic’s singular will to win is infused by beliefs that tend towards New Age quackery.
He employs a spiritual guru, believes you can talk to water and counts a tree as a friend.
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Many believe the plight he suffered Down Under is one of his own making by him refusing to provide proof he is exempt from the Covid vaccination.
Nicknamed Nole — and now “Novax” — Djokovic is perhaps the world’s most high-profile anti-vaxxer.
In 2020 he said: “Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel.”
Australians have been brutal in their condemnation of the champion.
With typical Australian frankness, one Twitter user posted: “Just get vaccinated, ya kn*b.”
Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter FitzSimons wrote: “When they hold the World D**khead Olympics, he would be my pick for the gold medallist.”
It is an astonishing turnaround for the star who was brought up with Nato bombs raining down on his native Serbia.
Married to his teenage sweetheart Jelena, 35, he has often held odd views.
In a 2018 interview with Shortlist magazine, he said: “I believe that it is our mission to reach a higher frequency through self-care by exploring and respecting our own avatar, our body and, by doing that, raising the vibration of the planet.”
There are reports he has been a regular visitor to “Bosnian pyramids” near Sarajevo, which some believe give off a mystical energy.
Though in 2006, the European Association of Archaeologists wrote an open letter to the Bosnian government denouncing the pyramids as a, “Cruel hoax on an unsuspecting public”.
He would also break up his Wimbledon visits with trips to the nearby Buddhapadipa Temple to meditate by a lake.
Then there were his comments on how he visits Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens to celebrate winning the Aussie Open.
In 2019, he explained: “I have a friend there, a Brazilian fig tree, that I like to climb and I like to connect with, that’s probably my favourite thing to do.”
A committed vegetarian, he stopped eating gluten in 2010 after being diagnosed with an allergy after holding a piece of bread to his stomach.
Nutritionist Dr Igor Cetojevic got him to stretch out his right arm while placing his left hand on his stomach.
When Djokovic repeated the action a second time with a slice of bread against his body, he noticed his outstretched arm felt weaker.
In 2016 he began working with ex-tennis player and Spanish spiritual guru Pepe Imaz, who extols the benefits of tree-hugging and instituted the “peace and love” gestures that accompany Djokovic’s victories.
Last year he participated in a live Instagram chat with wellness svengali Chervin Jafarieh, where the pair discussed how the “power of prayer” could make “toxic” food and water more healthy.
Djokovic told his followers: “I’ve seen people and I know some people that, through that energetical transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, they manage to turn the most toxic food or the most polluted water into the most healing water.
“Because water reacts and scientists have proven that, that molecules in the water react to our emotions, to what is being said.”
Wife Jelena, a business studies graduate and former model, has shared a conspiracy theory online.
In April 2020, Instagram posted a “false information” tag on her stories after she shared a video about 5G causing coronavirus.
She later clarified her position, saying she was not claiming the theory “to be true or not”.
Their marriage has been a target for gossip over the years.
‘GIVE OFF MYSTICAL ENERGY’
BBC commentator John McEnroe put their relationship under the spotlight in 2017 when he speculated that Djokovic’s poor run of form could be down to “some off-court issues with the family”.
During the couple’s courtship in 2011, it was reported that Djokovic was texting Serbian pop star Natasa Bekvalac.
He is also said to have an “emotional bond” with DJ Lady Lee, real name Lidija Popovic, who he previously dated.
Djokovic and Jelena were dogged by split rumours in 2019 when she failed to attend any of his matches at Wimbledon.
And last year Serbian model Natalija Scekic claimed she was offered more than £50,000 to trick the tennis ace into sleeping with her on camera.
She was offended by the offer and said she stormed out of the meeting.
Djokovic has repeatedly denied allegations of having cheated on his wife, and last year said: “I understand that it is more interesting for people to read Nole and Jelena are getting divorced than Nole and Jelena are in love.
“But that doesn’t affect Jelena and me because we love each other.” Djokovic’s detention has now become an international spat.
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic described it as a “political witch-hunt”.
Djokovic is now back participating at this year’s Wimbledon and was a beaten quarter-finalist at the French Open.
Djokovic on the way to Australia
Djokovic with wife Jelena