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Tennis

Updated on: Thursday, January 06, 2022, 03:39 PM IST

Australian Open: From being against vaccines to landing in Australia, a timeline of Novak Djokovic's near-entry

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts after playing a shot during his men's singles match of the 2016 Australian Open. | AFP PHOTO / PETER PARKS

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts after playing a shot during his men's singles match of the 2016 Australian Open. | AFP PHOTO / PETER PARKS

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World Men's no.1 Novak Djokovic has been denied entry to Australia after the federal government deemed his visa application ineligible. This was after he landed in Melbourne and was close to entering the country.

But how exactly did he get so close to entering Australia in the first place?

April 2020: Vaccine concern

In a Facebook live stream with fellow Serbian athletes in April of 2020, Djokovic revealed his doubts over vaccinations, even before a COVID-19 vaccine had been created.

"Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel," he said.

"But, if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I will have to make a decision."

June 2020: Djokovic tests positive

In June of that year, Djokovic and four other top men's tennis players tested positive for the virus after playing in the Adria Tour exhibition tournament in the Balkan region.

This tournament, organised by Djokovic himself, was widely criticised by the sporting world for being held with few health and safety protocols, such as masks and social distancing, as the first wave of coronavirus swept across the world.

July - September 2021: Vaccination status?

The 2021 US Open in August required fans to show proof of vaccination to attend, but athletes themselves were not required to be vaccinated to participate.

Djokovic — alongside other players, including world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas — either refused to answer questions on their vaccination status or expressed doubts when asked by media ahead of the event.

October 2021: Strict Australian government

As attention turned to the Australian Open, state and federal government ministers said vaccinations would be mandatory for participating athletes.
Federal immigration minister Alex Hawke, when asked about Djokovic's vaccination status, said players would not be able to enter the country and compete in the Australian Open unless they were fully vaccinated.

December 2021: Tournament entry lists

Despite all signs pointing to Djokovic's absence from the Australian Open — as well as the lead-up tournaments such as the ATP Cup — the Serbian was included on entry lists for both tournaments by their respective governing bodies, even while his vaccination and medical exemption status were unknown.

This was despite the Victorian government reiterating its vaccine stance after being asked about whether Djokovic had applied for medical exemptions to play in Melbourne.

January 2022: Tennis Australia's permission

On Tuesday, Djokovic posted on social media that he would be participating in the Australian Open after being granted a medical exemption.

In a statement, Tennis Australia revealed Djokovic had applied for the exemption alongside 25 other applicants in a "blind" assessment process involving two panels of three independent doctors, one organised by it and the other by the Victorian government.

Those independent panellists did not know the names, ages nor country of origin of applicants being reviewed.

While neither Djokovic nor Tennis Australia has revealed the reason for the world number one men's tennis player's exemption, it's believed that Djokovic's previous COVID-19-positive antibody status might be a possible reason for his exemption, although he has not revealed if he tested positive to the virus in the past six months.

January 6, 2022: Visa application denied

After two days of public backlash, Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that the federal government had cancelled Djokovic's visa while the player and his team were still inside Melbourne's international airport.

"No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment," Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said.

"Since 15 December 2021, fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption, and enter eligible states and territories quarantine-free," she said.

It is unclear what Djokovic's next steps will be. He is entitled to challenge the ruling in court, but the Federal Court has not yet received an application from his lawyers.

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Published on: Thursday, January 06, 2022, 03:39 PM IST
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