by Tara Hebbar
World no. 1, winner of 20 Grand Slams, arguably the ‘GOAT’ (Greatest of all Time) of the game, Novak Djokovic, has recently found himself in the news for feats other than his tennis accolades. Just like the COVID-19 and it’s wave of unexpected variance, the Novak Djokovic and Australian Open case, has also been full of unexpected developments and harsh back and forths. Amidst all the debate about vaccine regulations and the obligation of sports people to be vaccinated – the facts can often be lost or overlooked.
So what happened to Novak Djokovic, and why is he no longer playing the Australian Open – where his odds were high, and a win would take him one grand slam ahead of his duo of competitors. The saga surrounding Novak Djockovic and his participation in the Australian Open was temporarily closed after he left Australia, losing his judicial review against the cancellation of his visa. In his wake, he has left protests, arguing both sides of the story. However, how and when did this vaccine debacle start and what does it say for the future of tennis, sport and the Tennis Champion himself?
The basic timeline goes like this.. Prior to the release of the vaccine, Novak Djokovic said he was “opposed to vaccination”. Later, he clarified that he was “not an expert”, and he was willing to maintain an “open mind” but he wanted to “have an option to choose what’s best for his body”. Additionally, during a FaceBook live, he said he “wouldn’t be forced by someone to take a vaccine” just in order to participate in tournaments or travel. Based on this, he chose not to take the vaccine and remain unvaccinated. Although he has not released his current vaccination status, his comments and actions have made it fairly clear that he has not been vaccinated.
On 16th December of 2021, In his home-nation of Serbia, Djokovic took the PCR test, which on the 17th, came back positive. Following a quarantine procedure, he tests negative for the virus on the 22nd. On the 30th of the month, the tennis player receives an exemption from the Australian Open board to play at the grand slam without receiving the vaccine. Following this, on the 5th of January, 2022, he arrived in Melbourne, Australia. Almost immediately, his visa was revoked, and he was placed in Park Hotel, which was also used as a detention center for refugees. Lawyers immediately began preparing a case in an attempt to overturn their ‘Under current Australian law, all international travelers entering the country must be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, unless they have received medical exemption. Meanwhile, Djokovic claimed that he had been granted exemption by independent counsels associated with both the Victorian state government and Tennis Australia, due to his recent infection from the virus. In response to this, the Federal government states that recent infection from the virus was not considered a valid reason for exemption. On Monday of the next week, Judge Anthony Kelly said that the border officials had been unreasonable in making the decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa and ordered that Djokovic was free to leave the detention facility.
The following Friday, his visa was once again revoked, however, the officials decided they would not deport him till the case was concluded. The following Sunday, his visa was officially canceled and he received a 3 year ban from the country. This means he won’t be able to participate in the Australian Open till 2025, when he will be 37. Being his favourite grand slam, this ban jeopardized his chances to overtake the others and take the title of the ‘GOAT of men’s tennis’. Following this, the French Open also declared he would not be able to participate in the grand slam unless he was vaccinated. In the current light, it also appears that he might not be allowed to participate in the remaining 2 grand slams. All this not only jeopardizes his tennis career, but raises the question, is this the end of Djokovic?