Novak Djokovic intends to pursue a 10th Australian Open title as the first tennis major of the year begins on Monday. But before the Serbian player can turn his attention to breaking a 20-Grand Slam singles titles tie with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the world’s top-ranked men’s player must first resolve his ongoing visa saga.
The 34-year-old, who is one major final win from claiming the men’s record, still risks the chance of deportation.
Djokovic’s visa was canceled upon his arrival to Melbourne, Australia, last week when his vaccination exemption was questioned, but he has since won a legal battle on procedural grounds allowing him to stay in the country.
However, the opportunity to defend his Australian Open title is anything but a given as the immigration minister could still send him home.
The latest twist in the saga over whether the athlete should be allowed to stay in Australia despite not being vaccinated revolves around the revelation that he provided false information on an immigration form — which could be grounds for deportation.
As the tournament start draws nearer and Djokovic’s status remains unresolved, here is a timeline of the events that led us to this point:
Jan. 13, 2022: Djokovic slated to open title defense against Kecmanovic
After a delayed draw ceremony — a tournament official declines to comment to media on why the start time is pushed back — it is revealed that Djokovic will face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of the Australian Open, if he’s allowed to play.
According to the 2022 Grand Slam Rule Book, if Djokovic is forced to pull out of the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev would move into his spot in the bracket.
Jan. 12, 2022: Djokovic clarifies COVID-19 timeline; acknowledges ‘administrative mistake’
Djokovic’s most extensive public comments on the events that have transpired in Australia come via a post on social media. The post is shared by someone else while he is in Rod Laver Arena holding his third practice session on the tournament’s main court since being released from four nights in immigration detention.
In the statement, the nine-time and defending Australian Open champion acknowledges a mistake on his travel declaration for Australia — which failed to indicate that he had been in multiple countries over the prior two weeks — and confessed to an “error of judgment” in taking part in an interview and photo shoot in Serbia last month after testing positive for COVID-19.
Djokovic blames his agent for checking the wrong box on the form, calling it “a human error and certainly not deliberate.” He also sought to clarify what he called “continuing misinformation” about his movements after he became infected last month, though he did not specifically state what inaccuracies he was alluding to.
The 34-year-old remains in limbo before the year’s first tennis major starts Monday, as he still faces the prospect of deportation. It’s a decision that is entirely at the discretion of Australia’s immigration minister, if deemed to be in the public interest for health and safety reasons.
Deportation could result in sanctions ranging up to a three-year ban from entering Australia, a particularly daunting possibility for a player who has won almost half of his 20 Grand Slam singles titles in the country.
Jan. 11, 2022: Djokovic confirmed as No. 1 seed for Australian Open
Although his status remains uncertain, Djokovic is listed as the top seed for the men’s field at the Australian Open. The tournament organizers strictly follow the current rankings in determining seedings and Djokovic is ranked No. 1; he has spent more weeks atop the ATP than any other man in the history of the men’s professional tour’s computerized rankings.
Daniil Medvedev, who defeated Djokovic in the US Open final last year to prevent the Serbian player from capturing a calendar-year Grand Slam, is seeded second. They are followed by Alexander Zverev at No. 3, Stefanos Tsitsipas at No. 4 and Andrey Rublev at No. 5.
Nadal is seeded sixth. Federer is not playing in the tournament while he continues his recovery from right knee surgery.
Jan. 10, 2022: Djokovic’s visa is reinstated; released from immigration detention
Djokovic appeals the cancellation of his visa at a virtual court hearing on Monday, submitting an affidavit that says he is not vaccinated for COVID-19 and arguing he did not need proof of vaccination because he had evidence that he had been infected with the coronavirus last month. Australian medical authorities have ruled that a temporary exemption for the vaccination rule can be provided to people who have been infected with COVID-19 within six months.
Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly reinstates Djokovic’s visa, ruling the player was not given enough time to speak to his lawyers before the decision to deny him entry was made and noting Djokovic had provided officials at Melbourne’s airport with a medical exemption given to him by Tennis Australia and two medical panels. Kelly also orders the government to release Djokovic from immigration detention.
Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park hours later. He also takes to Twitter to express his gratitude and express that he remains focused on the tournament.
Government lawyer Christopher Tran tells the judge after the ruling that the minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, Alex Hawke, “will consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation.”
Jan. 9, 2022: Djokovic’s parents join protest in Serbia
Djokovic’s parents join a protest rally in downtown Belgrade, Serbia, with their son still in an Australian immigration detention hotel. Fans of Djokovic in Serbia anxiously await the court hearing that could decide whether he can play at the Australian Open.
Jan. 6, 2022: Djokovic denied entry into Australia; visa canceled
After being detained for about eight hours at the airport upon arrival, the 20-time major winner is denied entry to the country and his visa is canceled. The Australian Border Force says Djokovic failed to meet entry requirements. Health Minister Greg Hunt says the visa cancellation followed a review of Djokovic’s medical exemption — which was expected to shield him from the strict COVID-19 vaccination regulations in place — by border officials who looked “at the integrity and the evidence behind it.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweets: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders.”
The tennis star is brought to a hotel used to house immigration detainees in Carlton, an inner-northern suburb of Melbourne, where he remains for four nights. Fans gather in protest outside the hotel.
Djokovic’s wife, Jelena, takes to Twitter to share her thoughts on the situation.
Jan. 5, 2022: Djokovic arrives at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport
A public outcry surfaces on social media among Australians while Djokovic’s flight to Melbourne is in the air. The Age newspaper in Melbourne reports Djokovic lands before midnight local time on Wednesday at Tullamarine Airport, but his entry is delayed because of a mistake with his visa application.
Djokovic’s father says Novak is being held in a room with police out front.
Jan. 4, 2022: Djokovic announces he is heading Down Under with medical exemption
Djokovic reveals he will compete at the tennis season’s opening Grand Slam event after receiving a medical exemption from getting vaccinated against COVID-19. He posts a photo of himself at an airport on Instagram with a caption that reads, in part: “I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission.” Tennis Australia follows with a statement confirming Djokovic is on his way to the country with a medical exemption that has been “granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.”
Neither Djokovic nor Tennis Australia reveals the basis for his exemption. Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley says a “handful” of exemptions had been granted out of 26 applications from players or others.
Jan. 1, 2022: Tiley is asked about Djokovic’s status
After much speculation over Djokovic’s participation, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley is asked about the Serbian’s status for the Australian Open and responds: “There’s quite a bit to play out and I think it will play out in the coming days.”
Dec. 29, 2021: Djokovic pulls out of ATP Cup
Days before the competition is due to begin in Sydney, Djokovic withdraws from Serbia’s team for the ATP Cup. No reason is given.
“Novak Djokovic has officially withdrawn from the ATP Cup in Sydney, we have no update as yet on his plans for the Australian Open,” a Tennis Australia spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
Dec. 22, 2021: Djokovic tests negative
According to court documents, Djokovic tests negative for COVID-19 in Serbia.
Dec. 18, 2021: Djokovic does interview and photo shoot for L’Equipe
Knowing he tested positive, Djokovic does an interview and photo shoot with the French newspaper L’Equipe. He acknowledges weeks later: “On reflection, this was an error of judgment.”
Dec. 17, 2021: Djokovic attends Belgrade event
The nine-time Australian Open champion attends an event in Belgrade, Serbia, honoring youth tennis players. Parents post photos on social media showing Djokovic and the young players without masks. Djokovic later says he was asymptomatic, had taken an antigen test before the event that showed he was negative, and only received a positive PCR result after the event.
Dec. 16, 2021: Djokovic tests positive
Djokovic tests positive for COVID-19 in Serbia, although that is not public knowledge until it is revealed by court documents in January. He later says he did not know the result until Dec. 17.
Dec. 14, 2021: Djokovic attends a basketball game
The tennis star takes in a professional basketball game in Belgrade, Serbia. He is photographed hugging several players from both teams, including some who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Dec. 8, 2021: Merlino speaks on medical exemptions
Victoria state Deputy Premier James Merlino says medical exemptions for the vaccine policy would not be “a loophole for privileged tennis players” and would only be possible in “exceptional circumstances, if you have an acute medical condition.”
Nov. 19, 2021: Tiley states all Australian Open participants must be vaccinated
Confirming an edict made by the Victorian state government in late October, tournament director Craig Tiley says everyone at the 2022 Australian Open must be vaccinated for COVID-19. Djokovic’s vaccine status is unknown at the time.
June 2020: The Adria Tour is called off, Djokovic contracts COVID-19
Djokovic announces that he and his wife, Jelena, have tested positive for COVID-19 after he played in a series of exhibition matches he organized in Serbia and Croatia with no social distancing or masking required amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Adria Tour is canceled as Djokovic is the fourth player to test positive for the illness after participating in the matches held in Belgrade and Zadar, Croatia.
April 2020: Djokovic says he is ‘keeping an open mind’ regarding vaccine
As the coronavirus pandemic rages, Djokovic says in a Facebook Live, “Personally, I am opposed to vaccination, and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel. … But if it becomes compulsory, I will have to make a decision whether to do it, or not.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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