A tennis journalist ripped Novak Djokovic as an "anti-vax posterboy" soon after the superstar player captured his fourth-straight Wimbledon singles title Sunday — after which Djokovic's wife hopped on Twitter to defend her husband and blast Ben Rothenberg for "hatred and bullying."
What's the background?
Djokovic was deported from Australia earlier this year due to his unvaccinated status, ESPN said, preventing him from competing in the Australian Open, a tournament he's won a record nine times.
The Serbian player had been granted a vaccine exemption by Tennis Australia, the country's governing body for the sport, and the the Victoria state government also approved his exemption. But the national government and the Australian Border Force overruled Djokovic's exemption and refused to sponsor his visa — and he was stopped at the Australian border and held in a room guarded by police after landing in Melbourne.
Following his Wimbledon victory Sunday, Djokovic said he won't get the COVID-19 vaccination that will allow him to enter the U.S. and play in the U.S. Open tournament, scheduled to begin at the end of August.
"I'm not vaccinated, and I'm not planning to get vaccinated, so the only good news I can have is them removing the mandated green vaccine card or whatever you call it to enter United States or exemption," Djokovic said, according to ESPN. "I don't know. I don't think exemption is realistically possible. If that is possibility, I don't know what exemption would be about. I don't know. I don't have much answers there."
With that, Rothenberg — senior editor of Racquet magazine — called Djokovic an "anti-vax posterboy."
"Unless there is a swift change in US immigration law, #Wimbledon will be Djokovic’s last Grand Slam event of the year," Rothenberg tweeted. "US requires vaccination for foreigners to enter, and Djokovic has firmly said he has ruled out getting vaccinated, entrenching himself as an anti-vax posterboy."
Well, Djokovic's wife didn't take kindly to the slight and hopped on Twitter to hit back at Rothenberg.
"Excuse me," Jelena Djokovic told the journalist. "Just making sure that it is noted that YOU tagged him as antivax poster boy for whatever reason you have. He simply responded [to] what HIS body choice is."
A few minutes later, Rothenberg tried to explain himself: "I understand that it's his choice, but I also am saying that his decision to be so firmly against the vaccines that it limits his ability to play tournaments has made him, unwittingly or not, into a huge icon of the anti-vax movement. I saw this very clearly during Australia."
Mrs. Djokovic wasn't buying it: "You are creating a very judgmental narrative that fits your agenda. He is simply choosing what’s best for his body. If he is not playing because of making that choice, he is fine with it."
"I can accept judgmental," Rothenberg replied. "I believe every citizen, especially public figures, had a duty to act responsibly with public health actions and messaging during the pandemic, and as someone who has covered Novak as the influential champion he is, he repeatedly disappointed me deeply."
Jelena Djokovic finished up things by calling out Rothenberg with sarcasm: "Thank you for sharing your beliefs. I hope you don’t get judged for them. Or become a poster boy for hatred and bullying. You never know. You are also influential figure, please don’t continuously disappoint. Unless that’s your role."