Novak Djokovic, tennis’ male world number one, has been the centre of attention over the last few weeks. Due to issues surrounding the Serbian’s vaccination status and complications with his visa, his ability to compete at the maiden grand slam of the year, the Australian Open, has been the subject of vociferous debate. Indeed, Djokovic has been the most successful male player to ever compete at the Australian Open, having won 9 of the titles, including last year’s event. After losing in the US Open final last year to Daniil Medvedev, he is no doubt hungry to play; the Serb has previously stated that grand slams remain his ultimate priority at this stage in his career.
The Australian Open stated back in November 2021 that all participating players must be double vaccinated against Covid-19 to be able to play in the championship. It was also around this time that Srdjan Djokovic, Novak’s father, first expressed concerns over his son’s attendance in the then fast-approaching grand slam. Although, in the lead up to the Australian Open, Djokovic pulled out of the ATP Cup in Sydney, a team event allowing players to represent their country— a title Serbia last won in 2020. Crucially, the ATP Cup did not require players to be fully vaccinated to be able to play.
Yet in the context of the first major of the year, Craig Tiley, the Australian Open director, stressed that Djokovic would not receive any special treatment as a result of his professional success; Tiley stated that “If Novak shows up at the Australian Open, he’ll either be vaccinated or he’ll have a medical exemption” as cited in The Guardian.
This statement, contrary to Australian border policy, was a crucial detail in Djokovic’s Twitter announcement on the 4th of January. A picture of him stood at the airport with the caption “I’ve spent fantastic quality time with loved ones over break & today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!”, flooded the internet— many Australian citizens expressed their frustration upon his acceptance into the tournament.
Happy New Year! Wishing you all health, love & joy in every moment & may you feel love & respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet.
I’ve spent fantastic quality time with loved ones over break & today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022! pic.twitter.com/e688iSO2d4
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 4, 2022
However, just a day after Djokovic’s Twitter announcement, the world number one’s visa was cancelled. This meant that he could not enter the country, and therefore not play in the Australian Open. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also took to Twitter: “Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules”.
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2022
While waiting in the Park Hotel Melbourne, Djokovic applied for a judicial review regarding Australia’s decision to cancel his visa. On the 10th of January, Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly overturned the decision on Djokovic’s visa, therefore allowing him into the country to prepare for the Australian Open.
Djokovic was recorded by drone practising on the Australian Open grounds and was henceforth scheduled to compete against follow country man Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round on January 17, 2022.
However, on January 14, Djokovic’s visa was cancelled for the second time. The government have made this decision on public health grounds— a decision that was sustained by a court. According to BBC Sport, the defending champion boarded a flight to Dubai from Melbourne on Sunday the 16th.
As a result of Djokovic’s deportation, he will be unable to bid for an all-time record 21st grand slam, moving him ahead of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who, like Djokovic, are on currently on 20. Nadal remains the only player of the ‘big three’ to be playing at this years Australian Open; Federer is still out of action with a knee injury.
Several players have stated their opinion on the matter. Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios have reacted to the ongoing saga throughout the week. Murray, a rival and friend of Djokovic, stated that “the situation has not been good all round for anyone. If feels everything has happened extremely last minute and that’s why it became such a mess”, as cited in BBC Sport.
It is likely, though, that the outfall created by this saga will continue.