Jan 17, 2022 – The Australian Open got underway today in Melbourne today without its defending champion, Novak Djokovic. The men's No. 1 ranked tennis player is back in his native Serbia after being deported from Australia on Sunday. The 34-year-old champion lost his last attempt to avoid deportation and play in the Open despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19.
An Australian court had dismissed his challenge, ruling that the country’s immigration minister was within his rights to cancel the visa on the basis that Djokovic could pose a risk to public health.
Djokovic said in an emailed statement to news outlets that he was “extremely disappointed” but that he respected the ruling. He said he was “uncomfortable” that the focus has been on him since his visa was first canceled when he arrived in Melbourne on Jan. 6.
“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he said. “I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.”
A masked Djokovic was photographed deplaning in Belgrade today after leaving Melbourne Airport Sunday on an Emirates flight to Dubai.
He has won a record nine Australian Open titles, including three in a row, and 20 Grand Slam singles trophies — tied with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis.
Djokovic’s legal team had argued in court that Australia’s immigration minister erred by canceling the visa and claiming that Djokovic could encourage anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia. However, a panel of three federal judges unanimously sided with the government.
Under Australia’s laws regarding visa cancellations, Djokovic could be barred from entering Australia for three years, though the government could waive that. In Serbia, President Aleksander Vucic said the hearing was “a farce with a lot of lies.”
When Djokovic arrived on Jan. 6, a border official said the tennis player didn’t qualify for a medical exemption under Australia’s rules for unvaccinated visitors, though he had been exempted from the tournament’s vaccine rules because he was infected with the coronavirus in December and recovered.
“They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this 10-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves,” Vucic told reporters. “If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated.”
The court process was extraordinarily fast by Australian standards. Within three hours of Friday’s announcement that Djokovic’s visa was canceled again, his lawyers initiated a challenge to the decision.
The case was sent to federal court on Saturday, and both sides submitted court documents that day. Then the panel of three judges heard the case over five hours on Sunday and announced their decision two hours later.
The ATP Tour said that more time was required to “take stock of the facts and to take the learnings from this situation.”
“Ultimately, decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected,” the group said in a statement. “Novak is one of our sport’s greatest champions, and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game.”
Djokovic’s unvaccinated status could threaten his ability to play in other future international tournaments. Under a new law passed by French Parliament Sunday, he would have to show proof of vaccination to travel to and play in the French Open in May.
"The rule is simple. The vaccine pass will be imposed, as soon as the law is promulgated,” according to the French Sports Ministry. "This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice.”