The world No 1, Novak Djokovic, broke headlines worldwide last month in the lead-up to the Australian Open. Djokovic landed in Melbourne, only to be placed in temporary detention with a canceled visa shortly after. Although he was initially given a medical exemption to compete in the tournament, discrepancies were discovered in Djokovic’s visa as he was flying into the country. As a result, Australian Border Force officials held him for about 10 hours after landing at Tullamarine airport.
Djokovic’s legal team argued that the 34-year-old tennis player was under the impression that he would be allowed entry into the country after receiving a medical exemption from the tournament organizers. This exemption was granted since he has natural immunity to COVID-19 after a recent infection with the virus in December.
Under Australian law, such medical exemptions are only given to those who are either significantly immunocompromised or those who can prove they have suffered anaphylaxis after a previous dose or from any vaccine component. Thus, on those terms, Djovokic didn’t fit either category and was ineligible from an exemption.
The following week, a judge revoked the government’s decision to cancel Djovokic’s visa and ordered him free. He was then allowed to resume training on Rod Laver Arena for the upcoming Australian Open.
However, in another turn of events, Australia’s Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, decided to cancel Djockovic’s visa for a second time. This revoking put Djokovic back into detention just days before the tournament began. Hawke argued that the admission of the tennis star into Australia posed a risk not only to public health and order but also could encourage an uprising of anti-vax protests.
During this two-week-long legal debate, both supporters and critics of Djokovic took to the streets of Melbourne. Some protested that he had the right to compete in the Grand Slam, while others protested that such release made a mockery of all the sacrifices Australians have made during the pandemic.
The legal challenge failed the second time around after three Federal Court judges unanimously dismissed Djokovic’s application because the Immigration Minister’s argument was rational. Djokovic was soon whisked away on a plane back to Serbia.
Even though Djokovic never hit one tennis ball at the Australian Open, the entire saga dominated the drama of the early stages of the tournament. Although the ramifications will likely continue throughout the coming months, the Australian Open managed to thrive without Djokovic in attendance. Rafael Nadal spectacularly won a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam after coming from two sets down in the final against Danil Medvedev.
The question now is, when will we see Djokovic next? Will he have a chance to reach his own 21st Grand Slam title?
Djokovic has already submitted an entry for the Dubai Championship, which is set to take place from February 21-26. However, he might encounter trouble entering France considering Roland Garros’s current vaccination status. According to recent French vaccine rules, those that are unvaccinated will have to show proof of having COVID-19 in the past four months.
The situation in the United Kingdom is often changing, but right now, for Djokovic to play in Wimbledon, he must quarantine for ten days upon the arrival. For the US Open, there are simply “limited exceptions” for unvaccinated travelers.
“I want to come back to Australia in the future and to play on Rod Laver Arena again… A lot of professional and personal beautiful things happened to me there. Despite all this, I have a great connection with Australia.”
Playing in the upcoming Grand Slams will not be straightforward for Djokovic. He has announced that he would like to play in the Australian Open, despite being banned from entering Australia for three years. He told Serbia’s national TV, “I want to come back to Australia in the future and to play on Rod Laver Arena again… A lot of professional and personal beautiful things happened to me there. Despite all this, I have a great connection with Australia.”
Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena is indeed Djokovic’s happiest Grand Slam hunting ground. But in an on-camera interview with BBC, the world No. 1 expressed that he is prepared to skip playing in the French Open, Wimbledon, or any other tournaments over his vaccine status. That’s the price he is willing to pay.
“The principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I’m trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can.”
Djokovic remains unvaccinated and has no intention of changing that. “The principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else. I’m trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can.”