Novak Djokovic has been successful in his fight to quash the decision to rescind his Australian visa in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, paving the way for him to defend his Australian Open at Melbourne Park.
The saga is not finished, however, with a possible three-year ban from the country still hanging over Djokovic’s head given the potential for a discretionary call from the immigration minister to supersede the home affairs minister who was included as part of the court case.
The saga has become a major diplomatic incident with Australians furious that Djokovic, who has openly opposed vaccinations, was granted an exemption to enter the country.
Meanwhile, questions remain over Djokovic’s medical exemption and his positive Covid-19 test, after pictures emerged of the world No. 1 out in public and without a mask just hours after he returned a positive PCR result last month.
Here is a timeline of how the saga has unfolded so far:
April 2020 – Djokovic publicly opposes vaccines
After the coronavirus outbreak is declared a global pandemic, Djokovic publicly declares that he is “opposed to vaccination” and “wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel”.
His comments receive widespread backlash and one of Serbia’s leading scientists accuses Djokovic of “creating misconceptions”.
June 2020 – Djokovic tests positive at own tournament
As sport grinds to a halt across the continent, Djokovic organises a competition in the Balkans named the Adria Tour and invites several leading players, including Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, to participate.
Players are seen partying at a nightclub without masks and the event is cancelled after two of its five legs when Djokovic becomes one of several players to test positive for Covid-19. He subsequently apologises for organising the event.
January 2021 – Djokovic attracts criticism in Australia
Djokovic rails against the strict quarantine measures imposed on players travelling to Melbourne for the Australian Open, despite being one of a select few to benefit from access to a gym and outdoor courts at a separate hotel in Adelaide.
His comments draw criticism but he claims they were taken out of context and were designed to help other players rather than himself.
4 January 2022 – Djokovic receives ‘medical exemption’
After one of the greatest seasons of his career, months of speculation seemingly end with Djokovic being granted an exemption to defend his title in Australia, despite not revealing his vaccination status.
“Today I’m heading Down Under with exemption permission. Let’s go 2022,” he writes on Twitter before boarding a flight from Dubai to Melbourne.
A statement from Tennis Australia, in conjunction with Victoria State, appears to confirm such an exemption, reading: “Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.”
Djokovic’s post prompts furious backlash from within Australia, where cases have been rising sharply and Melbourne itself has been subjected to six lockdowns.
Under pressure from the public, prime minister Scott Morrison and other politicians intervene and insist Djokovic will not be afforded special treatment. “If he’s not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Mr Morrison writes on Twitter.
“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home. There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.”
5 January 2022 – Djokovic held at border as visa cancelled
The mood turns when Djokovic lands at Tullamarine airport and, despite believing he has clearance to enter the country, he is held for around 10 hours by the Australian Border Force. His exemption is withdrawn and his visa is cancelled and eventually the 34-year-old is transferred to the Park Hotel in Carlton, a state-run immigration facility that is also used to house asylum seekers. Djokovic lodges an appeal, with the hearing set for Monday morning.
6 January 2022 – Serbia reacts to Djokovic’s detainment
After fans gather outside the Park Hotel in protest, back in Serbia Djokovic’s parents both liken the immigration facility to a “prison” and claim it is dirty and riddled with bugs. His father, Srdan, compares Djokovic to Jesus and claims he is being “crucified” for his values.
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic attacks Mr Morrison, claiming Djokovic is a victim of persecution and is being used as a political pawn. “I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately,” he says in a statement.
Australian politicians insist visa applications are a matter for the federal government and cannot be decided by Tennis Australia and Victoria State. Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford tweets: “We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam. We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the federal government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors.”
Mr Morrison reiterates that point on Thursday morning in a tweet: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules.”
7 January 2022 – Djokovic breaks silence as second player detained
After requests to switch to his own accommodation, order food from a personal chef and gain access to a tennis court are all denied, Djokovic breaks his silence in an Instagram post thanking his fans for their support. He said: “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated.”
The government confirms that two more players are under investigation by the Australian Border Force after successfully entering Melbourne under the same vaccine exemption. Doubles player Renata Voracova, who had already competed in a warm-up event, is detained by officials and taken to the same hotel as Djokovic. The third player leaves the country.
8 January 2022 – Court documents explain Djokovic’s case
Ahead of his hearing on Monday, court documents released by Djokovic’s lawyers outline his case. They reveal that Djokovic took a PCR test on 16 December that returned a positive result which appears to form the basis for his exemption. There is also a letter dated 1 January from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs – the agency that has detained him – appearing to indicate that he “met the requirements for a quarantine-free arrival.”
Djokovic had not previously revealed the positive test and pictures show that he attended public events on both the day of the test and the following day in Belgrade.
A leaked video shows Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley praising his staff for their “unbelievable efforts” a day after the organisation denies “misleading” anyone.
“There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on and a lot of blaming going on, but I can assure you our team has done an unbelievable job and have done everything they possibly could according to all the instructions that they have been provided,” he says.
9 January 2022 – Government fails in bid to delay visa hearing
A late attempt to delay Novak Djokovic’s visa hearing until after the Australian Open draw is finalised is rejected by Judge Anthony Kelly.
Home affairs minister Karen Andrews had attempted to push Monday’s hearing to Wednesday.
10 January 2022 – Djokovic wins appeal against deportation
After a lengthy testimony, Judge Kelly moves to quash the original decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa and orders the 34-year-old be released from detention immediately.
The judge rules that Djokovic should have been allowed to enter the country after being granted his medical exemption, stating to the court: “What more could this man have done?”
After his release, Djokovic posts a picture of him training at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, confirming: “Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete at the Australian Open. I remain focused on that.”
In Serbia, a press conference conducted by his family is brought to an abrupt end after they refused to answer questions about Djokovic’s positive Covid test, after pictures emerged of the world No. 1 in public and without wearing a mask hours after receiving his positive result.
12 January 2022 – Djokovic admits breaking isolation after positive test
Following continued questions over the pictures of Djokovic in public, the 20-time Grand Slam winner releases a statement clarifying “ongoing misinformation”.
In this statement, Djokovic admits to knowingly breaking isolation to attend an interview and photoshoot with L’Equipe on 18 December having learned of his positive test a day prior.
Djokovic further explains that incorrect travel information on his immigration form that claimed he had not travelled in the two weeks before entering Australia was due to “human error” on the part of his agent, who made a mistake when filling in the form on Djokovic’s behalf.
Giving false or misleading information in the form is an offence, carrying a maximum penalty of 12 months in prison, and a fine of up to A$6,600 and can lead to cancellation of the offender’s visa.
Djokovic claims that his lawyers have sent additional information to the Australian government.
13 January 2022 – Djokovic included in Australian Open draw
Djokovic was confirmed in the Australian Open draw at a delayed ceremony on Thursday.
The 34-year-old defending champion was bracketed to play unseeded fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round at Melbourne Park after organisers delayed the draw for more than an hour without explanation.
Tournament director Craig Tiley declined to take questions at the end of the subdued ceremony, with Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke still weighing whether to revoke Djokovic’s visa for a second time after it was cancelled on his arrival at Melbourne airport.
Djokovic is now preparing for the tournament, which begins next week, although this may not yet be the end of the affair. A possible three-year ban from Australia still hangs over Djokovic’s head given the potential for a discretionary call from the immigration minister to supersede the home affairs minister who was included as part of the court case.