How science skeptic Novak Djokovic became a pin-up in the anti-vaxx movement

Want to know how Novak Djokovic apparently became so vulnerable to quackery of all kinds, and a poster for the anti-vaxx movement? Just read his autobiography, Serve To Win. This particular book is full of new-age jibber-jabber, with chapter titles such as “How Opening My Mind Changed My Body”.

Here is an anti-scientific crank that is hiding in plain sight. Our personalities, they say, are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves. So it’s interesting to see how Djokovic frames his book. He mentions the NATO bombing of Belgrade as a child, which is invariably the start of TV documentaries about him. But those parts of the story are a spectacle aside from the main idea: how he suffered from recurring physical ailments – allergies, breathing difficulties, blocked sinuses – until he gave up gluten.

Nothing particularly strange so far – until he explains how his gluten intolerance was diagnosed. A Serbian nutritionist called Dr Igor Cetojevic asked Djokovic to hold his right arm at a right angle and resist the pressure as he pressed it. Then the exercise was repeated, only this time while Djokovic held a slice of bread against his stomach. “I was noticeably weaker”, writes Djokovic, who adds that “the kinesiological tests of the arm [has] long been used as a diagnostic tool by natural healers. Yes, and mediums have long claimed to speak to the dead.

In other words, this branch of alternative medicine – known as “applied kinesiology” – remains largely unsupported by any scientific evidence. And that was just the start of the rabbit hole. “Growing up under communism, you are not taught to be open-minded,” writes Djokovic, a few pages later, before copying a claptrap page from traditional Chinese medicine. “Every organ in our body undergoes repair in roughly this order: lungs from 3 am to 5 am, large intestine from 5 am to 7 am, stomach from 7 am to 9 am… You see the picture.

Here is the new Novak. The Seeker of Truth. Nature lover. Here is a man who interrupted his visits to Wimbledon with visits to the nearby temple of Buddhapadipa to meditate by a lake. A man who revealed two years ago that he had a ‘friend’ in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens – ‘a Brazilian fig tree that I love to climb’. Yes, Djokovic’s jet-set spiritualism may seem charming on its own. But its side effect was gullibility.

Serve To Win describes a self-styled “seeker” taking two glasses of water and directing loving energy towards one, while cursing angrily at the other. “After a few days … [the angry glass] was slightly tinted green… the other glass was still shiny and clear ”. Harmless, perhaps, so deeply silly. But then, last year, Djokovic could be found hosting a former real estate agent called Chervin Jafarieh on his Instagram Live channel. Jafarieh was selling bottles of Advanced Brain Nutrients for $ 50 apiece, which – like Djokovic’s resistance to the Covid vaccination – seemed against public health interests.