Novak Djokovic came within one win after sweeping all four of last year’s Grand Slam tennis tournaments and entering 2022 with one title needed to set the men’s record of 21 major championships.
He may not get the chance to pursue that point at the Australian Open when the game starts on January 17 in Melbourne.
This is because, even though Djokovic was a 34-year-old from Serbia medical exemption granted to circumvent a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all players and their support teams at the hard court tournament, his visa to enter Australia has been revoked in the early hours of Thursday after he was detained at the airport for about eight hours.
Here’s a look at some of the issues surrounding Djokovic’s attempt to play in the Australian Open:
Why was Djokovic granted a medical exemption? Has anyone else been given one?
The Victoria State Government, where Melbourne Park is located, has required full vaccinations for all players, staff and supporters at the Australian Open, unless there is a genuine medical reason.
Victoria’s Deputy Prime Minister James Merlino said medical exemptions would not be “a loophole for privileged tennis players” and would only be possible in “exceptional circumstances if you have an acute medical condition”.
Tennis Australia said Djokovic’s request for an exemption “was granted after a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts”.
Neither Tennis Australia nor Djokovic has revealed why he was seeking an exemption.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said a total of 26 players or support staff had applied for exemptions and a “handful” had been granted.
I feel very uncomfortable with how Mr. Djokovic was treated. No one deserves to be humiliated in this way. It could have been solved before he left. Not a good image for #Australia to send to the world. https://t.co/EUkkJl2mrR
– Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) 5 January 2022
Why then was he prevented from entering Australia?
When he landed at the airport, the Australian Border Force canceled Djokovic’s visa, saying he had “failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements”.
“No one is above these rules,” tweeted Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who later told a news conference that Djokovic’s release was not valid but did not explain the details.
What was the reaction in Serbia and Australia?
The news that Djokovic is on his way to Australia with a release was not exactly Best regards in Melbourne, where most people endured months of strict lockouts and strict travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic.
After the announcement, former Australian rules footballer Kevin Bartlett tweeted that Australians were “taken for fools”.
Another former player, Corey McKernan, tweeted: “People with loved ones who are dying / some who need urgent treatment cannot get into their own states. You tell people they can not go to Coles or a cafe without to be grown, but if you are world number one, do you get a pass? ”
The concern about Djokovic’s status upon his arrival was, not surprisingly, objected to by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who called it “harassment”.
“The whole of Serbia is with him and … our authorities are taking all measures to end the abuse of the world’s best tennis player as soon as possible,” President Vucic said after talking to Djokovic over the phone. “In accordance with all standards of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, justice and truth.”
Djokovic’s father echoed that nationalist tone, claiming that his son had been “imprisoned for five hours” at Melbourne Airport and should return home after a hero’s welcome.
“This is a fight for a libertarian world, it’s not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world,” he told Russian state-run Sputnik media in Serbia.
Yesterday I tweeted this government takes credit for everything and responsibility for nothing. Since then, the prime minister has said the Djokovic visa issue is a matter for Victoria. Then he took credit when access was denied. It’s getting ridiculous.
– Barrie Cassidy (@barriecassidy) 6 January 2022
Has Djokovic been vaccinated? Did he have COVID-19?
While Djokovic declined to say explicitly whether he had received any shots to protect against the coronavirus, he would not have needed an exemption to enter Australia if he had been fully vaccinated.
He had previously issued a statement saying: “Personally, I am opposed to the vaccine against COVID-19 in order to travel. But if it becomes mandatory, I will have to make a decision whether I want to do it or not. . ”
Two months later, he and his wife tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus after a series of exhibition matches he arranged without social distance or masking.
What happens next?
Djokovic has been battling deportation from Australia and is currently being held at the Park Hotel, which is being used as a quarantine and immigration detention facility in Melbourne.
Court officials said Judge Anthony Kelly would hear Djokovic’s appeal against the impending deportation which was moved back to 07:00 GMT.