The Australian Open is synonymous with summer; an event that not only allows us all to relish in the aftermath of the festive period and New Year as we sink into our couches, still reeling from the copious amounts of Christmas ham we’re having to demolish simply to make room in the fridge, but also one that kicks off the professional calendar as players make their way Down Under to compete against the best.
But in 2022, the Open was largely overshadowed by the saga that surrounded Novak Djokovic. After Djokovic chose not to get the Covid-19 vaccination for personal reasons that he did not disclose, Tennis Australia told the star he would be granted entry to the country via medical exemption. Instead, Djokovic arrived and was detained, with the Coalition government then revoking his visa on the grounds that a recent Covid diagnosis did not justify an exemption to the country’s requirement for visitors to be vaccinated.
The whole debacle was embarrassing to say the least, not so much for Djokovic but for Tennis Australia and the government. Though the tennis star won a temporary reprieve in the federal circuit court, Alex Hawke – then serving as the immigration minister – decided to cancel the visa, claiming if granted entry Djokovic’s presence in Australia could spark “civil unrest” as he is “perceived by some as a talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment.” Djokovic was then deported days before scheduled to compete.
It’s now been revealed that the Serbian tennis star will return Down Under to compete at the 2023 Australian Open, as the Australian government has overturned its requirement for visitors to be vaccinated. The announcement comes as immigration minister, Andrew Giles, is set to overturn the three-year ban that was first given to Djokovic alongside the decision by the previous government to cancel his visa on the eve of the 2022 Open.
While Djokovic told reporters that he had heard “nothing official yet” regarding his entry into Australia, he added: “We are waiting. They are communicating with the government of Australia. That’s all I can tell you for now.”
Director of the Australian Open, Craig Tiley, is also optimistic that Djokovic will return. “I don’t think there should be any preferential [visa] treatment for anyone. But I fully expect to have an answer for everyone by the time that they need to book their flights and come in, including Novak. That’s entirely up to the Australian government. I know Novak wants to come and play and to get back to competing.”
Tiley added, “He loves Australia and it’s where he’s had the best success but the timing [on any announcement] is up to somebody else and we’ll just play that one by ear. He understands the circumstances and everything but he’s got to work it out with the federal government. I’m confident they’ll reach some arrangement and hopefully it’s positive.”
In 2022, Djokovic was hoping to win his 10th Australian Open title and cement his status as the greatest player to ever take to the court as he won a record 21st grand slam title. Instead, that title went to Rafael Nadal who edged ahead of the Serbian with 22 Grand Slams. With 21 to his name now, Djokovic is hoping to continue his dominance on Australian courts, but it seems likely that he will enter each match having to face the crowd favourite.