Djokovic at the Australian Open: Nine Titles, One Exemption, No Visa

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  • Novak Djokovic
    Novak Djokovic
    Serbian tennis player

Less than 36 after Novak Djokovic revealed he was granted an exemption from the Australian Open’s vaccine mandate, his visa into the country has been canceled, potentially ending his attempt at a record 21st Grand Slam title.

“The ABF can confirm that Mr. Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently canceled,” the Australian Border Force said in a statement. “Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa canceled will be detained and removed from Australia.”

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The move comes after Djokovic spent hours being questioned in isolation by ABF officials upon arrival at Melbourne Airport over issues with his visa application and the vaccine exemption he received to play in the Australian Open.

The ruling has created a geopolitical firestorm, with Serbia’s president even weighing in. “Our authorities are taking all measures to stop the harassment of the best tennis player in the world in the shortest possible period,” President Aleksandar Vucic posted on his Instagram page. “In accordance with the norms of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, for justice and truth. Otherwise, Novak is strong, as we all know him.”

“This is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole wold,” Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, said in a statement to the media, while his son was being held at the airport. “If they don’t let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street.”

A showdown between Djokovic and Australia had been brewing since last month, when the Open became the first Grand Slam tournament to announce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Djokovic has long said vaccination is a private decision, and his father equated vaccine mandates to “blackmail.”

The whirlwind saga kicked off Tuesday when Djokovic posted to his 9.6 million followers on Instagram: “I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022 !!”

Event organizers said that 26 players or support staff applied for a medical exemption, and Djokovic was one of a “handful” granted. But they insisted he did not receive any special treatment. Tennis fans and Australian residents immediately pushed back. The country has faced strict lockdowns to contain COVID-19, and more than 90% of adults have received two vaccine doses.

“We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a media conference Wednesday. “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.”

Djokovic arrived in Australia with a chance to break his three-way tie for career Grand Slam singles titles. He is deadlocked with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at 20 apiece. Nadal is competing in Melbourne, while Federer is still recovering from knee surgery that will force him to miss the event for the second-straight year. Djokovic holds a slight edge in career matches against both of his longtime rivals, with winning records against Federer (27-23) and Nadal (30-28).

Djokovic has built a sterling resume during his nearly two decades on the ATP Tour. Here are the numbers that define the 34-year-old Serb on and off the court, including a record nine Australian Open titles, including the past three.

3: He is one of only three male players to win all four Slams at least twice, joining Roy Emerson and Rod Laver. Djokovic, Laver and Don Budge are the only players to simultaneously hold the four titles. Djokovic accomplished the feat during 2015-16.

4: Djokovic’s rank among the highest-paid tennis players, including prize money, appearances and endorsements. He trails Federer, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.

11: The start of 2022 marks 11 different years that Djokovic has held the No. 1 ranking at some point, breaking a tie with Nadal. Another record: seven times as the year-end No. 1.

15: Record number of consecutive event finals Djokovic reached, in 2015.

17.5%: Djokovic co-founded the Professional Tennis Players Association in 2020 to advocate for players. The PTPA says that men’s and women’s players receive only 17.5% of revenue from the two tours.

37: Record number of singles Masters titles won.

52: His earnings rank among the world’s highest-paid athletes for the 12 months ending June 1, 2021. The $33.4 million haul included $29 million off the court from sponsors, like Lacoste, Head, Asics, Peugeot and Hublot.

83%: Djokovic’s career winning percentage.

+130: Odds, provided by FanDuel, that Djokovic will win the Australian Open, with a $100 bet netting a $130 profit. His challengers include Daniil Medvedev (+210), Alexander Zverev (+350) and Nadal (+1100).

354: Total weeks Djokovic has been the ATP’s No. 1 ranked player. He passed Federer’s record of 310 weeks in 2021.

€1 million: Donation by Novak and his wife, Jelena, to buy medical equipment to combat the coronavirus in 2020 in his native Serbia.

$3.3 million: Prize money for the winner of the singles competition at the 2022 Australian Open.

$21.1 million: Djokovic’s 2015 prize money, which was a record one-year haul. He holds five of the 10 highest single-season totals.

$55 million: Total prize money at the 2022 Australian Open.

$154.8 million: Djokovic’s career prize money, which surpassed $150 million last year, is well ahead of his fellow Big 3 players, with Federer at $130.6 million and Nadal at $125 million. Andy Murray ranks fourth at $62.3 million.