Will Novak Djokovic play the Australian Open? What happens next in Covid vaccine row after visa court decision

Despite winning the Australian Open a record nine times, it is likely to be Novak Djokovic‘s quest for a 10th title which goes down in history as the most memorable.

The world No 1 was detained on 5 January after a nine-hour stand-off at Melbourne Airport, with the Australian government cancelling his visa in a row over whether he had a valid exemption to get round the country’s Covid-19 vaccine requirements.

The Serbian national then spent the following days in an immigration hotel while his legal team put forward an appeal on the basis that he had tested positive on 16 December and had natural immunity.

However, despite the country’s tennis authorities accepting that argument, the Australian government insisted that no such exemption existed.

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It has also been widely questioned why Djokovic, having tested positive on 16 December, shared photos of himself attending a ceremony honouring his achievements on 17 December. Djokovic was not wearing a mask. It is not known whether he was aware he had Covid at the time.

Will Djokovic play at the Australian Open?

On Monday, Djokovic was informed he had been successful in his appeal against deportation, which suggested he would be able to take part in the Australian Open. Judge Anthony Kelly decided that Djokovic was not given enough time to respond after being told his visa was being cancelled.

That seemed to have paved the way for him to play after all, but there have since been further complications. The Australian government’s Immigration department could still exercise their power to cancel the visa again. If that happens, it’s even possible the 34-year-old won’t be able to travel to Australia for another three years, by which time he may have even retired.

What is clear is that it is the Australian government, rather than Tennis Australia, who have the issue with his exemption. He received letter from the latter’s organisation chief medical officer in December confirming that he had been given “a medical exemption from Covid vaccination”.

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Tournament organisers had outlined strict criteria stating that all players and staff had to be vaccinated, unless they could provide proof of a valid exemption.

As it stands, Djokovic is on course to play the major thanks to the court ruling, but that could change depending on whether the Australian authorities decide to take the matter further.

On Tuesday, it emerged that Border Force was investigating claims that some of the information on Djokovic’s Australia Travel Declaration was incorrect. It stated that he had not been in any other countries for 14 days before his journey from Spain to Australia, but pictures on social media led to suggestions that he had been in Belgrade – though it is not known when the photos were taken and he has not commented on that issue publicly.

Djokovic had said on Twitter that he was “pleased and grateful” for the decision and reiterated that he wants “to stay and try to compete at the Australian Open.”

He added: “I remain focused on that. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans.”

Even if he does proceed with the tournament as he had planned, he has not been able to train since his arrival and has not played a competitive match since the start of December.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the 20-time grand slam winner has been vocal on the issue of vaccination, first stating that he was “opposed to vaccinations” in April 2020.

In June 2020, he was forced to apologise for organising the Adria Tour events in Serbia and Croatia after which he was one of four players to test positive for Covid.

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