Novak Djokovic won't play in Australian Open after visa appeal denied in court

·2 min read
Novak Djokovic has won the Australian Open nine times, including each of the last three. (AP file photo)
Novak Djokovic has won the Australian Open nine times, including each of the last three. (AP file photo)

The saga of Novak Djokovic has finally come to an end in Australia.

An Australian court struck down his appeal to have his visa reinstated for a second time on Sunday, meaning he'll be deported.

The world No. 1 men's tennis player confirmed in a statement that the fight is over and he will not compete in the Australian Open.

"I am extremely disappointed with the Court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open.

"I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country."

Sunday's ruling was a last-gasp attempt to overturn a ruling two days earlier that stripped Djokovic of his visa for a second time.

He was scheduled to begin his title defense at the tournament Monday evening local time (5 a.m. ET). That spot will now be filled by an alternate.

This ends an unusual multiple-weeks long legal dispute that began when his visa was canceled on Jan. 6 upon his arrival in Melbourne for the tournament. That ruling was made because his medical exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine was considered ineligible by immigration officials.

Visitors to the country are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, barring an exemption. Djokovic, who is from Serbia, has stated he's not vaccinated.

Though a judge reinstated his visa temporarily on Jan. 10 to allow him proper time to appeal, the back-and-forth battle continued when the decision was reversed three days later.

That left the tennis star with his final hope in the country's Federal Court on Sunday. It didn't go Djokovic's way.

"I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love. I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.

"Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me."

While the country's strict COVID-19 vaccine policy is at the center of the issue, Djokovic further complicated matters by using false information on his immigration form.

On the document, he claimed to have not traveled in the two weeks leading up to his arrival in Australia. Djokovic later admitted he had in fact ventured to Spain in the prior days, and he apologized for the mistake.

Apparently, sorry wasn't enough.

Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke defended the court's decision, saying strict COVID policies are necessary to keeping death rates down.

"I welcome today’s unanimous decision by the Full Federal Court of Australia, upholding my decision to exercise my power under the Migration Act to cancel Mr Novak Djokovic’s visa in the public interest.

"Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world. Strong border protection policies are also fundamental to safe-guarding Australia’s social cohesion which continues to strengthen despite the pandemic.

Djokovic's absence from the tournament drastically changes the outlook of the men's draw. He's won the event nine times, including each of the last three.

He would have been attempting to win his 21st career grand slam event, which would be an all-time men's record. At 20 titles, he's tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

While every country employs its own COVID policies, it's not clear what Djokovic's status will be for major competitions going forward.