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Government Overrides Tournament Exemption, Djokovic Banned From Entering Country • Leaves AO Participation in Doubt

Novak Djokovic traveled all day Wednesday from Dubai to Australia, on Thursday, he was told he would need to leave the country, following a 10-hour standoff with government officials at a Melbourne airport.

By Ricky Dimon

Less than 48 hours after getting an exemption from the Australian Open to participate in the tournament despite being unvaccinated, Novak Djokovic’s status for the first Grand Slam of 2022 endured a complete 180 on Wednesday night.

It was not until now that this story completely blew up, but it had been brewing for a while. Would Djokovic be able to play at Melbourne Park even though he has refused to get the Covid-19 vaccine and even though Australia has always enforced the most strict health and safety protocols of just about every country in the world? That has been the question for many months now.

When the Serb got the exemption earlier this week, he appeared all set to go on his Australian voyage.

In fact, he did go!

“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission,” Djokovic wrote in the caption of a post on both Twitter and Instagram on Tuesday. “Let’s go 2022!”

“Novak Djokovic will compete at the Australian Open and is on his way to Australia,” read a statement from tournament officials.

“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts. One of those was the Independent Medical Exemption Review Panel appointed by the Victorian Department of Health. They assessed all applications to see if they met the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines.”

Somewhere along the way, however, there was quite clearly a breakdown in communication between Tennis Australia and the Australian government. The former said he could play; the latter said he could not even enter the country.

Unfortunately for Djokovic, he had already begun the trip Down Under before being aware of — or perhaps “being made aware of” is more accurate — a potential issue in his status. Thus when the world No. 1 arrived in Melbourne, he was in for an incredibly rude awakening.

Border control held up Djokovic at the Melbourne airport upon his arrival late Wednesday night. Hours of negotiating and deliberating led to isolation in a lonely airport room with no cell phone for much of the night. There was confusion over the reason for Djokovic’s barred entry, but rather than some sort of incorrect visa it appears that an inability to provide a valid excuse for being unvaccinated is at the heart of the matter.

In the end, the answer was “NO!)

“Mr. Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled,” prime minister Scott Morrison tweeted on Thursday morning. “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.”

“The advice that I have literally just received before joining you is that the visa for Novak Djokovic has been canceled,” health minister Greg Hunt said at a news conference. “It’s a matter for him whether he wishes to appeal that, but if a visa is canceled, somebody will have to leave the country.”

“The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements,” the ABF stated.

After spending the entire night at the Melbourne airport, Djokovic was transported to a quarantine hotel and is expected to be deported from Australia on Thursday morning.

Protestors seen outside the Park Hotel, believed to be where Novak Djokovic of Serbia is being detained in Melbourne, Australia, 06 January 2022. Ranked number one player in the world, Djokovic is set to be deported after his visa was revoked by the Australian government as he is filing a federal injunction. EPA-EFE/JOEL CARRETT

The 34-year-old is a nine-time champion of the Aussie Open and has won the title three times in a row. He triumphed last year at the end of a fortnight marked by strict Covid-19 protocols with limited attendance and nighttime curfews.

If Djokovic is unable to play this year, world No. 2 and 2021 runner-up Daniil Medvedev will be the top seed. Other impactful changes would see Andrey Rublev move up to No. 4 and Hubert Hurkacz climb to No. 8.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.