Famed for his nearly impenetrable defensive abilities, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic is the world's number one men's tennis player. He is, for all intents and purposes, the best tennis player in the world and with 20 grand slams, is one of the greatest if not the greatest tennis player of all time.
As an athlete, he ranks among the world's greatest. But while he has not spoken about his own vaccination status, he said last year he was "opposed to vaccination" and we know he has also in the past tested positive for the virus.
During a Facebook live in April 2020 he explained how he "wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine" should that be necessary to travel or compete in tournaments. His comments spread like wildfire, especially amongst conspiracy theorists who believe vaccines form part of a plot to control the world's population. It also led vaccine sceptics, such as US tennis player Tennys Sandgren, to come out in support of his fellow player.
Novak's wife Jelena has also been accused of fuelling disinformation on social media after she promoted false claims that 5G technology is somehow linked to Covid-19 on her own Instagram page. Her posts were labelled as false by the social media site, which is owned by Facebook parent-company Meta.
Now, Novak has hit the headlines again for similar reasons after it was announced he will play in the Australian Open, after being exempted from vaccination rules under a special dispensation that will allow him to defend the title he won last year and has dominated since his first win in 2008.
Australians have reacted angrily to the news, which is no surprise - and to any observer, it's a strange decision for a country that has been so stringent on their approach towards coronavirus, with more than 90% of their over 16 population fully vaccinated. After all, they're now seeing tens of thousands of Covid-19 cases for the first time after enduring some of the world's strictest restrictions.
It's always a joy to see any athlete of Novak's calibre play but that experience for me and many others will this year be soured as it flies in the face of a mantra that has kept many of us going for almost two years of this pandemic - that we're "all in this together". If I wanted to go to Australia to play a game of tennis - admittedly, not as skilfully as Novak - I doubt I'd be successful without being able to prove I've been jabbed three times.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the Serbian player would be required to present evidence upon arrival that he has a genuine medical exemption from vaccination, with the tournament set to begin on January 17 in Melbourne.
It remains to be seen how that will play out but it's becoming ever more obvious that this is a pandemic of two halves. The narrative of unity and support is slipping further and further every day and while we, the little people, would love to have had garden parties with cheese and wine or been allowed to take part in everyday activities without worrying about vaccine passports or masks - it obviously hasn't presented the same barriers to those in a certain position, those of immense or extraordinary sporting ability. Whether Novak likes it or not, he is a role model. It's a crown uneasily worn by some but it's the position he occupies for hundreds of thousands and the level of influence he possesses.
Yet rather than make an example of this issue around vaccination status - which the Australian government had the perfect opportunity to do - instead 15,000 will be lauding him in Rod Laver Arena. Novak, the man in the centre of the storm, is sure to be set for a rocky ride over the next few weeks in Melbourne as this story of vaccine status goes well beyond tennis. The player's famously thick skin will now be tested like never before.
Like so many high-profile players and celebrities, Novak has had ample chances to offer clarity on his vaccine status. But his refusal to answer pressing questions has left a void and it's now clear he will have a cloud hanging over him. It remains to be seen whether any other players have also been given exemptions.
For the rest of us, it's time now to start calling out everyone who might not have been digging in like the rest of us, instead of seeing it as an excuse or a chance to enable others, whether celebrity, sport star or politician. My patience is wearing thin with the pandemic but it's wearing even thinner with those who think they're above it.