MELBOURNE (AP) — Instead of starting his defense of the Australian Open on Monday, Novak Djokovic faced deportation from the country, an unprecedented and shattering end to his winning streak at Melbourne Park.
Djokovic has won nine of his 20 Grand Slam trophies at the Australian Open – including three in a row – and was scheduled to play on the main court of the tournament on the first day of competition.
But the top-ranked player in men’s tennis must leave the country after three court judges unanimously upheld the minister’s right to cancel Djokovic’s visa.
The 34-year-old Serb was attempting to use a medical waiver to circumvent requirements that all participants in the Australian Open – tennis players, their coaching staff, spectators and others – be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Djokovic is not vaccinated, and the government said his presence could stoke anti-vaccine sentiment.
In a statement published by Australian media, Djokovic expressed disappointment with the ruling but said he would respect the court’s decision, cooperate with authorities “in relation to my departure from the country” and take time “to rest and recover.”
“I am extremely disappointed with the court’s decision to dismiss my application for judicial review of the minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means that I am unable to stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” the statement said. “It makes me uncomfortable that in recent weeks the focus has been on me, and I trust that now we can all focus on the game and the tournament that I love.”
“Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbs for their constant support. They have all been a great source of strength for me.”
The Serbian tennis player’s dominance of the majors has been especially impressive in recent tournaments. He has won four of the last seven Grand Slam events and was a runner-up in two others. The only time he did not reach the final in that time was at the 2020 US Open, when he was disqualified in the fourth round for hitting a ball that unexpectedly caught a linesman in the throat after a match.
The tournament organizers had originally scheduled a match between Djokovic and his compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic. Instead, Kecmanovic will face what is known as a “lucky loser”, a player who loses in qualifying matches but makes it to the main draw because of another player’s departure before the competition begins.
That lucky loser was not initially identified by organizers, who had not yet commented on the court ruling.
In other scheduled matches, defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka will play the second match on the main court, the Rod Laver Arena, against Colombia’s Camila Osorio.
Rafael Nadal will play in the afternoon, while the number one in the women’s classification, Ash Barty, will play the first duel of the night at the Rod Laver Arena.
The Australian government canceled Djokovic’s visa on Friday due to issues related to his refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine. That was four days after a court overturned on procedural grounds an earlier cancellation of Djokovic’s visa.
The nine-time Australian Open winner spent four nights in immigration detention before his first court hearing, and was again held in an immigration hotel on Saturday pending an appeal.