Trending on Tennis: Novak Djokovic’s vaccination saga


Credit: Alyssa Ao

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Jeffery Zhang

Novak Djokovic isn’t playing in this year’s Indian Wells Masters, the most-attended tennis tournament outside the four Grand Slam tournaments. Why?

Djokovic, who is unvaccinated for COVID-19, was banned from entering the U.S. after the U.S. Transportation Security Administration released a statement saying that it requires foreign air travelers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 until April 10, 2023. The travel ban will hurt Djokovic’s ranking quite a bit as Indian Wells is an ATP Tour Masters 1000, the second highest point tournament. However, this isn’t the first time Djokovic has been restricted from playing a tournament.

Djokovic’s history with being banned can be hard to understand, so, here’s a timeline of Djokovic’s infamous vaccine saga and all the important tournaments he’s missed out on.

January 5, 2022: Djokovic’s visa to enter Australia is canceled, and is detained
The state government for Victoria, Australia mandates full vaccinations for all players. Djokovic was originally granted an exemption, along with a handful of other unnamed players, on grounds of acute major medical conditions, serious adverse reaction to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine or evidence of a COVID-19 infection within the previous six months. However, when Djokovic landed at the airport, his visa was canceled by the Australian Border Force for the failure to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements.

January 16, 2022: Djokovic’s appeal fails and he misses the Australian Open
Djokovic won his first appeal to reinstate his Visa on procedural grounds, due to the border force’s handling of his arrival at Tullamarine Airport, and Djokovic was released from his detention and allowed to practice inside the Rod Laver Arena. However, the Australian immigration minister, Alex Hawke, used his discretionary powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa once again. Djokovic lodged another appeal but it was rejected by a panel of three judges who determined Djokovic’s presence may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others.

February 2022: Djokovic defends his decision to not have the vaccine
Djokovic confirmed that he is unvaccinated in an interview with BBC in which he said, “I was never against vaccination, but I’ve always supported the freedom to choose what you put in your body.” Djokovic also said in the same interview with BBC that he would rather miss out on future tennis trophies than be forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

March 2022: Djokovic withdraws from Indian Wells and the Miami Open
The CDC confirmed that Djokovic would not be able to enter the U.S. unless vaccinated, and remaining true to his word, Djokovic decided to withdraw from both the Indian Wells and the Miami Open tournaments.

August 2022: Djokovic withdraws from the U.S. Open
Djokovic withdrew from the U.S. Open after giving up hope that the U.S. government would relax restrictions in time for the tournament. The U.S. Open was be the second grand slam that Djokovic missed out on.

January 2023: Djokovic returns to the Australian Open after previously being deported from the country
By January 2023, Australia no longer required proof of vaccination or a negative test for entry into the country, except for travelers arriving from China. Although Djokovic was automatically barred from Australia for three years after his deportation, the new Australian government chose to overturn this ban after the cancellation of his visa was revoked by Immigration Minister, Andrew Giles. Djokovic would go on to win the tournament, establishing himself as the Grand-Slam record holder, and tying his grand slam wins with Rafael Nadal.

March 2023: Djokovic withdraws from Indian Wells
Due to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s decision to mandate foreign travelers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 until April 10, 2023, Djokovic couldn’t enter the United States Although Djokovic requested a waiver to allow him to enter the country, his decision to withdraw from the tournament indicated that his request failed.

Djokovic’s vaccination history and his infamy of being banned from tennis tournaments has been a significant topic of conversation in tennis over the past two years. However, restrictions are being lifted and requirements of foreign travel are getting ever more lenient, as shown by Djokovic being allowed to play in the Australian Open. Soon, the controversy of Djokovic remaining unvaccinated and the drama of him being deported will be behind us. Hopefully, we’ll be able to just enjoy tennis as it is.