It’s one of the biggest sporting events on the calendar, drawing crowds to Melbourne in droves. With the Australian Open starting today, talk should have been on the players involved: on top seeds and the possibility of an underdog triumph. Instead, all eyes have been on Novak Djokovic and the saga surrounding the Serbian tennis star’s visa as his quest to defend his title and potentially reach a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title were dashed by a court ruling against his bid to stay in the country.
After first hearing his visa would be denied, Djokovic and his camp attempted to appeal the decision. However in a unanimous decision, the court ruled that Australia’s immigration minister was within his rights to cancel the visa for a second time on the basis that Djokovic could pose a risk to public health and order, largely due to fears it would spur anti-vax movements. As a result, Djokovic doesn’t just lose out on the opportunity to compete at the Australian Open. Rather, he could be barred from entering Australia for the next three years under its laws regarding visa cancellations, along with further international travel challenges should he not get vaccinated.
With his absence, the door is now open for new contenders in the tournament. But as news of his deportation sounded, the tennis world was in reckoning with countless players and sports fans alike being quick to voice their thoughts on the matter. Andy Murray, who was conducting his pre-tournament media rounds in Melbourne at the exact moment Djokovic’s court proceedings was announced, said: “Novak is someone I have known since we were 12 years old, he is someone who I respect and have competed against. I don’t like that he is in this situation and I don’t like that he has been in detention.”
Murray added, “The situation has not been good all round for anyone. It feels everything here happened extremely last-minute and that’s why it became such a mess. Hopefully that won’t be the case at other events so there is no other situation like this. I wouldn’t want that for Novak, don’t want that for tennis and hopefully it is done now.”
Vasek Pospisil, the co-founder alongside Djokovic of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) and close friend of the tennis star, echoed Murray’s dismay for the Serb. “Novak would never have gone to Australia if he had not been given an exemption to enter the country by the government (which he did receive; hence Judge Kelly’s initial ruling),” he wrote on Twitter. “He would have skipped the Australian Open and been home with his family and no one would be talking about this mess. There was a political agenda at play here with the elections coming up which couldn’t be more obvious. This is not his fault.”
Rafael Nadal said about the saga surrounding Djokovic and his visa application: “Honestly, I’m a little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis.”
It was a sentiment shared by Emma Raducanu, who expressed her dissatisfaction at how Djokovic’s visa status had come to overshadow other players, their efforts, and the sport itself. “I feel it has taken away a little bit from the great tennis that’s been happening over this summer in Australia,” she said.
In a statement released after the court ruling, Djokovic expressed: “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.”
He added: “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.”