Timeline: The Novak Djokovic visa row that has erupted into one of sport’s messiest scandals

·8 min read
Novak Djokovic Australian Open protests parents
Novak Djokovic Australian Open protests parents

Novak Djokovic faces a race against time to overturn a decision to cancel his visa and win the right to defend his Australian Open title after Australia moved on Friday to have the world’s best tennis player deported.

Nine days after the Serbian arrived in Melbourne, Djokovic was once again told he would not be allowed to stay in the country, having received notice from immigration minister Alex Hawke that his visa had been cancelled “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”.

It was the latest, and biggest, development in one of sport’s messiest sagas, which has involved the prime ministers of both Australia and Serbia, and even seen a request made to the Queen by Djokovic’s father to intervene on the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s behalf.

Djokovic has appealed the verdict, meaning the saga will continue to drag on ahead of the opening day of the Australian Open on Monday, but here are the events that led to the tournament being plunged into chaos.

December 14

Djokovic attends the Euroleague basketball match between Red Star Belgrade and Barcelona in the Serbian capital, having elected to spend the month back in his home country for Christmas and to prepare for the 2022 season. Several attendees subsequently reported tested positive for Covid-19, and it may be here that Djokovic caught the virus himself.

December 16

He undergoes a PCR test just after 1pm, according to documents supplied to Tennis Australia by his lawyers. He then attended a panel discussion and ceremony after a new stamp dedicated in his honour was unveiled, which he posted about on his Twitter account the following day. Djokovic’s test result returns positive for Covid just after 8pm.

Novak Djokovic Serbian stamp - TWITTER
Novak Djokovic Serbian stamp - TWITTER

December 17

The Serbian is pictured attending an awards ceremony at the Novak Tennis Center, still in Belgrade, where he presents trophies to several young tennis players while not wearing a mask. Afterwards, according to a social media post published by the athlete on Jan 12 2022, Djokovic learns he has Covid.

December 18

In a photoshoot held by French publication L’Equipe for their Champions of Champions award, Djokovic is pictured maskless as he poses with the trophy. He also takes part in a one-on-one interview where he does wear a mask and declines a request to remove it for photographs to be taken, though L’Equipe reports he at no point made them aware that he had tested positive for Covid.

December 22

Djokovic returns a negative Covid PCR test at around 4:15pm. Although Serbian Covid regulations instruct those who test positive to isolate within 14 days, this can be ended by a negative test.

December 25

He appears in a video playing tennis with a fan on the streets of Belgrade, and is pictured separately with Serbian Benfica handball star Petar Djordjic the same day.

December 31

By now, Djokovic has travelled from Serbia to Spain to return to his property in Marbella. A video is shared on social media showing Djokovic in training on a tennis academy court in Sotogrande, near Marbella, while several pictures show him posing with fans.

January 1

The player’s agent, Elena Cappellaro, in filling out his Australian Travel Declaration, ticks ‘No’ to the question: “Have you travelled, or will you travel, in the 14 days prior to your flight to Australia?” This is despite social media posts indicating Djokovic had been in Belgrade on Christmas Day – 11 days before he arrived in Australia – but in Spain on New Year’s Eve.

January 4

Djokovic leaves Spain destined for Australia, via a stop-over in Dubai, after believing he has been granted permission to enter the country under grounds of medical exemption. He posts a message on Instagram and Twitter that confirms his journey and intention to play at the Australian Open, which alerts the Australian public to his imminent arrival and fuels a fierce backlash. As a result, the Australian Border Force takes a closer look at his entry requirements.

January 5

Upon arrival at Melbourne Airport at 11:30pm local time, Djokovic is refused entry to Australia, despite Tennis Australia having proclaimed the exemption had been “granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts”.

January 6

After being held for around eight hours and questioned overnight, Djokovic’s visa is cancelled when he is deemed to have provided insufficient evidence to warrant him entering the country unvaccinated. He is taken to an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne, where fans gather outside in protest. Australian prime minister Scott Morrison posts on Twitter: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders.’’ Lawyers for Djokovic secure an interim injunction preventing him being deported ahead of a hearing four days later. A letter emerges showing Tennis Australia was warned previous Covid infection would not be enough to secure quarantine-free entry to the country. Rafael Nadal says Djokovic only has himself to blame for his plight.

January 7

Another tennis player, Czech veteran Renata Voracova, has her visa cancelled over her vaccination status having entered Australian using the same exemption as Djokovic. Nick Kyrgios says of the Djokovic debacle: “How we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad. This is one of our great champions. At the end of the day, he is human. Do better.”

January 8

Court documents submitted by Djokovic attest he tested positive for coronavirus on December 16. Questions are raised due to him having repeatedly made public appearances shortly afterwards when he should have been in quarantine. It is also pointed out a positive test on December 16 would have come too late for the Tennis Australia exemption deadline as described to players.

January 9

Sir Andy Murray brands the furore “really bad” and “not good for tennis at all”. The blame game intensifies after Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley breaks his public silence to claim the federal government rejected two requests in November to examine exemption cases for unvaccinated players before they arrived in the country. Djokovic’s parents join a protest rally in downtown Belgrade, Serbia.

January 10

A judge overturns Djokovic’s visa cancellation and orders his release, ruling the player was not given enough time to speak to his lawyers before being denied entry to Australia. The government warns it will consider throwing him out anyway. Police use pepper spray when clashing with Djokovic supporters outside his lawyer’s office. Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park and takes to Twitter to express his gratitude and state he remains focused on the Australian Open. His mother, Dijana, says: “Novak was subject to torture, harassment […] This is the biggest victory in his career, bigger than all of his grand slams.” She and other family members refuse to explain why the world No1 repeatedly appeared in public shortly after testing positive for coronavirus.

Novak Djokovic's parents held a press conference in Serbia after his initial release - SHUTTERSTOCK
Novak Djokovic's parents held a press conference in Serbia after his initial release - SHUTTERSTOCK

January 11

It emerges that Djokovic is being investigated as to whether the declaration was false he had not travelled in the two weeks prior to his flight to Australia. Social media posts indicate Djokovic travelled from Serbia to Spain between Christmas and New Year before flying to Melbourne. Inconsistencies are also alleged around the timing of his positive Covid-19 test. While Djokovic claims he tested positive on December 16, German newspaper Der Spiegel claims a digital version of his positive test indicates the result may actually be from December 26.

January 12

Djokovic apologises after admitting to a breach of coronavirus quarantine rules in a length statement on Instagram. He says he did not find out about his positive test until after he appeared in public on December 17 but did know by the time he carried out an interview and photoshoot with L’Equipe the following day. He accepts this was “an error of judgment”. He also blames his agent for an “administrative mistake” on his travel forms and denounces “misinformation” surrounding the case. The Australian government widens its investigation to include his quarantine breach and unanswered questions about his positive test. Djokovic’s team also submit “lengthy further submissions” to immigration minister Alex Hawke, who will decide his fate.

January 13

Djokovic’s camp are said to be preparing for the prospect of a further legal appeal if his visa is cancelled again. After a delayed draw ceremony, it is revealed Djokovic will face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of the Australian Open. Stefanos Tsitsipas, the world No4, accuses him of making vaccinated players “look like fools”, of “playing by his own rules” and of putting the grand slam at risk. Tsitsipas becomes the third top-five player to suggest he would not be disappointed if Djokovic was forced to leave.

January 14

Djokovic is once again banned from Australia after Hawke decides to use his “personal power of cancellation” to revoke the tennis star’s visa. The Serbian's legal team immediately fight the decision and request a judicial review, which is granted. Djokovic is told he will have to attend an 8am (9pm GMT) interview on Saturday with border force officers, who will then accompany him to his lawyer's office where he will take part in a hearing from 10.15am (11.15pm GMT). Djokovic will then be taken back into detention at an immigration hotel where he will spend the night, before the hearing resumes on Sunday morning local time (Saturday night GMT).

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