Brisbane: Novak Djokovic took one win by winning all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments last year and entered 2022 with one title to set the men’s record of 21 major championships.
He may not get a chance to pursue that goal at the Australian Open, when play starts in Melbourne on January 17.
That’s because, although Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia, was granted a medical exemption to evade the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for all players and their support teams at the hard court tournament, his visa to enter Australia was canceled in the early hours of Thursday, local time, withdrawn after being stuck at the airport for about eight hours.
Here’s a rundown of some issues surrounding Djokovic’s bid to play in the Australian Open:
WHAT WAS THE REASON FOR THE EXEMPTION OF DJOKOVIC? WAS SOMEONE ELSE AN ALLOWED?
The state government of Victoria, where Melbourne Park is located, has mandated full vaccinations for all players, staff and fans at the Australian Open unless there is a genuine medical reason.
Victoria Deputy Prime Minister James Merlino said medical exemptions are not 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 disclosed the reason why he was seeking exemption. Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said a total of 26 players or support staff have applied for waivers and a “handful” has been awarded. Acceptable reasons included acute serious medical conditions, serious adverse reaction to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, or evidence of COVID-19 infection within the past six months.
IF HE HAD AN EXEMPTION WHY WAS DJOKOVIC PREVED TO ENTER 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 entry requirements.” Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted: “No one is above these rules”, later saying at a press conference that Djokovic’s exemption was not valid, but did not explain the details.
WHAT IS THE RESPONSE IN AUSTRALIA? AND IN SERBIA?
The news that Djokovic was on his way to Australia with a waiver announced first by him via social media, then by Tennis Australia via a press release, was not exactly warmly received in Melbourne, where most people have months of strict lockdowns and strict travel restrictions. experienced at the height of the pandemic. More than 90% of Victorian residents aged 12 years and older are fully vaccinated. The turnaround over Djokovic’s status upon his arrival was, unsurprisingly, objected by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who called it “harassment.”
IS DJOKOVIC VACCINED? HAS HE HAD COVID-19?
While Djokovic has steadfastly refused to say explicitly whether or not he received any shots to protect against the coronavirus, he would not have needed an exemption to enter Australia had he been fully vaccinated. In April 2020, he issued a statement saying: “Personally, I am against the COVID-19 vaccination to be able to travel. But if it becomes mandatory, I will have to decide whether 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 staged without social distancing or masking.
WHY IS THIS AUSTRALIAN OPENING IMPORTANT FOR DJOKOVIC? AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO THE TOURNAMENT?
Djokovic is on the brink of history, one Grand Slam trophy away from finally overtaking rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in men’s tennis history. Going into the 2011 season, Federer owned 16 major titles, Nadal nine and Djokovic one. Now they have 20 each. Djokovic, who eclipsed Federer’s mark for the most career weeks at No. 1 in the men’s standings last year, already owns nine Australian Open championships, the men’s record.
DO TENNIS PLAYERS NEED TO BE VACCINED TO PLAY IN ALL TOURNAMENTS?
New. In tennis, such mandates come from national, state or local governments, and this is the first time it has come into play at a tournament. The latest Grand Slam event, for example the US Open in New York in August and September, did not require players and their team members to be vaccinated (but, pressed by the mayor’s office, the US Tennis Association did require spectators to show that they had at least one chance).
ARE MOST TENNIS PLAYERS VACCINED?
At least two others, Tennys Sandgren and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, are out of the Australian Open because they have not been vaccinated. A spokeswoman for the women’s professional tennis tour said on Wednesday that 85% of the top 100 WTA players have been fully vaccinated; a spokesperson for the professional men’s tour tweeted late last month that the ATP’s vaccination rate in the top 100 was 95%.
SO IS THIS ENTIRE EPISODE OVER?
Doubtful. Djokovic files legal action with the Australian Federal Circuit Court against the withdrawal of his visa. If he had to leave now, he would have time to return before the Australian Open starts if his bid to enter Australia and the Australian Open were ultimately successful. AP