Novak Djokovic’s attempt to play in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated against COVID-19 came to an end when a court upheld a government minister's rejection of his visa.
The unanimous ruling from three Federal Court judges in Melbourne on Sunday came the day before Djokovic was scheduled to begin his title defense at a Grand Slam tournament he’s won a record nine times.
The Australian government twice canceled a visa held by the 34-year-old from Serbia and Djokovic’s lawyers appealed twice. Djokovic won the first appeal on procedural grounds, but in the second go-round in court, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke's right to to deport Djokovic was confirmed.
Djokovic is the No. 1-ranked man in tennis and is currently tied with rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer with 20 Grand Slam titles, a record.
Djokovic's medical exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to compete in the Australian Open originally was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain the visa to travel. But he was detained at the airport upon arrival.
Here is a look at the timeline of events involving Djokovic’s trip to Australia:
April 2020: As the coronavirus pandemic rages, Djokovic issues a statement, saying, “Personally I am opposed to the vaccination against COVID-19 in order to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, I will have to make a decision whether to do it, or not.”
June 2020: With the professional tennis tours on hiatus because of the pandemic, Djokovic organizes a series of exhibition matches in Serbia and Croatia with no rules requiring social distancing or masking. The Adria Tour is called off after some players get COVID-19; Djokovic and his wife, Jelena, test positive.
Nov. 19, 2021: Confirming an edict made by the Victorian state government in late October, tournament director Craig Tiley says everyone at the 2022 Australian Open must be vaccinated for COVID-19. Djokovic’s vaccine status is unknown at the time.
Dec. 8, 2021: Victoria state Deputy Premier James Merlino says medical exemptions for the vaccine policy would not be “a loophole for privileged tennis players” and would only be possible in “exceptional circumstances, if you have an acute medical condition.”
Dec. 14, 2021: Djokovic attends a professional basketball game in Belgrade and is photographed hugging several players from both teams, including some who later tested positive.
Dec. 16, 2021: Djokovic later says he took a COVID-19 test in Serbia on this day that came back positive, but he also says he did not know the result until Dec. 17. None of this was public knowledge until January, after his visa was first canceled and the case went to court in Australia. That positive test is the grounds Djokovic used to justify his medical exemption for the Australian Open.
Dec. 17, 2021: Djokovic attends an event in Belgrade honoring youth tennis players. Parents post photos on social media showing Djokovic and the young players without masks. Djokovic later says he was asymptomatic, took an antigen test before the event that showed he was negative, and only received the positive PCR result from the Dec. 16 test after the event.
Dec. 18, 2021: Djokovic does an interview and photo shoot with the French newspaper L’Equipe, but does not say anything at the time about having tested positive . He says in January that he knew at the time he had COVID-19, saying: “On reflection, this was an error” of judgment.
Dec. 22, 2021: According to court documents, Djokovic tests negative for COVID-19 in Serbia.
Dec. 29, 2021: Djokovic withdraws from Serbia’s team for the ATP Cup, days before the competition is due to begin in Sydney. No reason is given.
Jan. 1, 2022: Tiley is asked in a TV interview about Djokovic’s status for the Australian Open and responds: “There’s quite a bit to play out and I think it will play out in the coming days.”
Jan. 4, 2022: Djokovic posts on Instagram a photo of himself at an airport with a caption that reads, in part: “I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission.” Tennis Australia follows with a statement confirming Djokovic is on his way to the country with a medical exemption “granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.” Neither Djokovic nor Tennis Australia reveals the basis for his exemption. Tiley says a “handful” of exemptions had been granted out of 26 applications from players or others. A public outcry bubbles up on social media among Australians while Djokovic’s flight to Melbourne is in the air.
Jan. 5, 2022: Djokovic arrives at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport.
Jan. 6, 2022: After being detained for about eight hours, Djokovic is denied entry to the country and his visa is canceled. He is sent to an immigration hotel, where he remains for four nights. The Australian Border Force says Djokovic failed to meet entry requirements. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweets: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders.”
Jan. 10, 2022: As part of his legal attempt to overturn the visa cancellation, Djokovic submits an affidavit that says he is not vaccinated for COVID-19. Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly reinstates Djokovic’s visa, ruling the player was not given enough time to speak to his lawyers before the decision to deny him entry was made at the airport. Kelly orders the government to release Djokovic from immigration detention. Hours later, Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park.
Jan. 11, 2022: With his status still uncertain, Djokovic is installed as the No. 1 seed for the men’s field at the Australian Open. The tournament strictly follows the current rankings in determining seedings and Djokovic is ranked No. 1; he has spent more weeks atop the ATP than any other man in the history of the men’s professional tour’s computerized rankings.
Jan. 12, 2022: Djokovic’s most extensive public comments on the matter come via a post on social media that is put up by someone while he is practicing at the Australian Open’s main stadium. He says there was a mistake on his travel declaration for Australia, which failed to indicate he had been in multiple countries over the preceding two weeks. Djokovic blames his agent for checking the wrong box on the form, calling it “a human error and certainly not deliberate.” He also discusses what he says was his positive COVID-19 test in December and the L’Equipe interview.
Jan. 13, 2022: Djokovic is placed in the Australian Open bracket and the draw sets him up to play another man from Serbia, 78th-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic, in the first round.
Jan. 14, 2022: Immigration Minister Alex Hawke says he used his ministerial discretion to revoke Djokovic’s visa on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.” Djokovic’s lawyers say they plan to appeal the visa cancellation, saying that Hawke's basis was that Djokovic could boost anti-vaccine sentiments in Australia.
Jan. 15, 2022: At a 15-minute procedural hearing held via video conference, Federal Court Judge David O’Callaghan says lawyers representing Djokovic and the government must submit written arguments on the appeal of Hawke’s decision later in the day.
Jan. 16, 2022: At a virtual court hearing before a three-judge panel that begins in the morning and is carried live on a public video stream, lawyers representing Djokovic and Hawke present their arguments. A little before 6 p.m. local time in Melbourne, the ruling is announced and Djokovic's appeal is dismissed. Chief Justice James Allsop says a full written explanation will be issued in “the coming days,” but explains the decision came down to “whether the decision (by Hawke) was, for different reasons, irrational or legally unreasonable” and that the court was not trying “to decide upon the merits or wisdom of the decision.” Djokovic issues a statement saying he is “extremely disappointed” and “will now be taking some time to rest and recuperate.” Tennis Australia removes him from the field and replaces him with Salvatore Caruso, an Italian who is ranked 150th and faces Kecmanovic on Monday.
Jan. 17, 2022: Play in the Australian Open is scheduled to begin. The men’s singles final is Jan. 30.
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