Djokovic now free to play in Australian Open

Novak Djokovic

By Nehru Odeh

Winning comes naturally to world number one tennis star Novak Djokovic. And he is not beaten easily. Not only has he won a joint record 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, including a record nine Australian Open titles. Overall, he has won 86 ATP singles titles, including a record 37 Masters events.

However, the Serb, who is the only man in the Open Era to achieve a double career Grand Slam and complete a non-calendar year Grand slam, has just added another victory to his winning streak Though this time not on the lawn tennis court but in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

He won an appeal on Monday 10 January 2022 against a decision to refuse him a visa to enter Australia in order to compete in the Australian Open from 17 January despite being unvaccinated against Covid-19. And he is back in training ahead of the competition.

The world No 1, who has never hidden his opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine, argued that he flew into Australia with an “exemption” on his visa, but when he arrived in the country on Wednesday he was denied entry. Djokovic was later moved to a quarantine hotel while his legal team appealed the visa cancellation.

While he was being detained in the Melbourne hotel, his supporters gathered outside the Melbourne hotel showing support and solidarity and vowed to keep gathering outside the hotel until he was released

However Judge Anthony Kelly, while delivering his verdict, quashed the visa cancellation, and ordered the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention within half an hour.

Following the news that Djokovic’s appeal was successful, Rafael Nadal – who warmed up for the Australian Open by clinching the Melbourne Summer Set title – gave his perspective on the situation.

“Whether or not I agree with Djokovic on some things, justice has spoken and has said that he has the right to participate in the Australian Open and I think it is the fairest decision to do so, if it has been resolved that way. I wish him the best of luck,” Nadal told Spanish radio Onda Cero on Monday.

“On a personal level, I’d much rather he didn’t play,” Nadal said, laughing along with the interviewer.

“It’s sports, many interests move around it, on a general level, at an economic, advertising level. Everything is much better when the best can be playing,” Nadal said, before once again defending vaccination.

“The most important institutions in the world say that the vaccine is the way to stop this pandemic and the disaster that we have been living for the last 20 months.”

Still, the government has threatened to cancel his visa for a second time. Shortly after the verdict, a transcript of Djokovic’s interview with Border Force last week was released in which the world number one stated: “I am not vaccinated.”

Djokovic, palpably relieved after the running battle with the Australian authorities, has said he wants to stay and compete in the Australian Open. “I’m pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen. I remain focused on that. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans,” he tweeted.

“For now I cannot say more but THANK YOU all for standing with me through all this and encouraging me to stay strong.”

Speaking at a news conference in Belgrade, Djokovic’s father Srdjan stressed that the “rule of law has won” in this case: “At the end he won, justice has won and the rule of law has won.”

Djordje Djokovic, his brother, revealed the current Australian Open champion has already been on the court.

“Novak is free. A few minutes ago, he trained on a tennis court,” he said. “He came to Australia to play tennis, to try and win another Australian Open.

“He has been branded in different ways for many years and he has always supported freedom of choice.”

Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, had ealier in a press conference said her son has “done nothing wrong”. “We’re here to celebrate the victory of our son Novak. He always fought for justice. He’s done nothing wrong. He went there to win that tournament. This situation has been extremely difficult. There has been a spectrum of emotions: sadness, fear, disappointment.

Dijana also thanked everyone around the world who has supported her son in Melbourne.”This is the biggest win in his career, it is bigger than any Grand Slam,” she said.

Djokovic flew to Australia with a ‘vaccine exemption’ and arrived in Melbourne last Wednesday, but was denied entry into the country after nine hours at the airport. Djokovic said he flew with an “exemption”, had Covid-19 twice and is not vaccinated

The Serb’s visa was one that did not allow for medical exemptions and was cancelled, after which he was moved to hotel quarantine as his team launched an appeal.

The Australian Home Affairs department appealed for the hearing to be delayed until Wednesday, but their request was rejected on Sunday by Judge Anthony Kelly.

On Sunday, the government filled documents in defence of their decision to deny Djokovic entry. “This is because there is no such thing as an assurance of entry by a non-citizen into Australia. Rather, there are criteria and conditions for entry, and reasons for refusal or cancellation of a visa,” the government’s filing said.

However, the legal tussle was a career-defining moment for Djokovic who grew up in Serbia during the conflict in the Balkans, practised his tennis in an empty swimming pool and occasionally run for cover when bombing raids started. “It made us more hungry, more hungry for the success” he has previously said.

This is indeed a turning point in Djokovic’s career as a tennis player. If he eventually plays in the competition and maybe even wins one more Australian Open, it would make him the most successful man ever to play the game.