Novak Djokovic’s next big battle: fighting deportation from Australia

Serb’s visa is cancelled and his appeal has been adjourned until Monday

Novak Djokovic is a nine-time Australian Open champion
Novak Djokovic is a nine-time Australian Open champion
(Image credit: William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Just 48 hours ago Novak Djokovic was getting ready to board a plane to Melbourne to defend his title at the Australian Open. The men’s tennis world No.1, a nine-time champion Down Under, had revealed he had been granted a medical “exemption permission” to play in the first grand slam of 2022.

Two days later, though, Djokovic’s hopes of winning a tenth Australian Open – and a record 21st career grand slam title – look in tatters. After arriving at Tullamarine Airport on Wednesday the 34-year-old had his visa to enter the country “dramatically revoked”, the BBC said. He was then held at the airport for “several hours” before border officials confirmed he had failed to meet Covid vaccine-entry requirements.

Instead of a “conquering champion’s return”, Djokovic “never made it past border control”, news agency AFP said. He is currently being held at an immigration detention facility in Melbourne and faces deportation.

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The Australian Border Force (ABF) said Djokovic failed to provide evidence to meet the entry requirements and his visa was subsequently cancelled. “Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia,” a statement said. “The ABF can confirm Mr Djokovic had access to his phone.​”

His appeal against the visa cancellation has now been adjourned until Monday and he will stay in a quarantine hotel until then, Sky Sports reported.

‘Hostile’ reaction to exemption

The lead-up to the slam has been overshadowed by Djokovic’s vaccination status. The “vaccine-sceptic Serb” has refused to reveal his status publicly but has previously “voiced opposition to being jabbed”, AFP said.

Public reaction in Australia to Djokovic’s exemption was “overwhelmingly hostile” and caused “outrage”, The Guardian reported. Describing the decision as “appalling”, Stephen Parnis, a former vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, tweeted: “I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in. If this exemption is true, it sends an appalling message to millions seeking to reduce #COVID19Aus risk to themselves & others. #Vaccination shows respect, Novak.”

While Djokovic was airborne, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the tennis star would be on the “next plane home” if he could not provide “acceptable proof” that his exemption is legitimate.

Following the visa cancellation Morrison tweeted that “rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders”. He added: “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.”

‘Serbia will fight for Novak’

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic delivered a “fiercely worded” diplomatic rebuke in reaction to Djokovic’s visa cancellation. Vucic said Serbia will “fight for Novak Djokovic, justice and truth” and his country’s authorities are “undertaking all measures in order that maltreatment of the world’s best tennis player ends as soon as possible”.

Rafael Nadal, who is also a 20-time grand slam champion, said he felt sorry for Djokovic but his rival “knew the conditions months ago”. “Of course what’s happening is not good for Novak, in my opinion,” the Spaniard added. “[But] if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open.”

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Mike Starling is the digital features editor at The Week, where he writes content and edits the Arts & Life and Sport website sections and the Food & Drink and Travel newsletters. He started his career in 2001 in Gloucestershire as a sports reporter and sub-editor and has held various roles as a writer and editor at news, travel and B2B publications. He has spoken at a number of sports business conferences and also worked as a consultant creating sports travel content for tourism boards. International experience includes spells living and working in Dubai, UAE; Brisbane, Australia; and Beirut, Lebanon.