With Djokovic Deported From Australia, The Focus Returns To Tennis

Novak Djokovic (photo: George Sal / Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 17, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Novak Djokovic has left Australia, 11 days after he arrived – unvaccinated – with a medical exemption from Tennis Australia to compete in this year’s Australian Open. News of Djokovic’s deportation emerged shortly before 6 p.m. (Melbourne time) Sunday, after the World No. 1 and nine-time Australian Open champion had lost his attempt to overturn the decision of the immigration minister to cancel his visa.

The 20-time major winner and nine-times the men’s champion of the Australian Open had hoped to defend his title. He had already been placed in the draw and was scheduled to play the final night match on Rod Laver Arena Monday evening against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic.

A few hours after the Federal Court’s ruling, Djokovic departed Melbourne on an Emirates flight bound for Dubai. The 2022 Australian Open begins Monday without the men’s top seed, who has competed in the year’s first major every year since 2005.

While it remains to be seen what kind of reputational damage has been caused to the Australian Open as a result of the Djokovic saga, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arguably summed up the feelings of many in Australia.

“It’s now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer,” he said in a written statement.

Alex Hawke, Minister for Immigration, who exercised his power under Australia’s Migration Act to cancel Djokovic’s visa in the public interest, said he welcomed the unanimous decision by the Full Federal Court of Australia.

“Australia’s strong border protection policies have kept us safe during the pandemic, resulting in one of the lowest death rates, strongest economic recoveries, and highest vaccination rates in the world. Strong border protection policies are also fundamental to safe-guarding Australia’s social cohesion which continues to strengthen despite the pandemic,” Hawke wrote in a statement.

After Djokovic was forced to withdraw from the Australian Open, the ATP Tour finally broke its silence and weighed in with a statement of its own. It said:

“Today’s decision to uphold Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa cancellation marks the end of a deeply regrettable series of events. Ultimately, decision of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected. More time is required to take stock of the facts and to make the learnings from this situation.

“Irrespective of how this point has been reached, Novak is one of our sport’s greatest champions and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game. We know how turbulent the recent days have been for Novak and how much he wanted to defend his title in Melbourne. We wish him well and look forward to seeing him back on court soon.

“ATP continues to strongly recommend vaccination to all players.”

Meanwhile, Tennis Australia said in a brief statement that it respects the decision of the Federal Court.

“As per Grand Slam rules, the No. 1 position in the draw has been filled by a Lucky Loser. …

“We look forward to a competitive and exciting Australian Open 2022 and wish all players the best of luck.”

Djokovic disappointed by outcome but respects Court’s ruling

Before he departed Australia, deported by the country’s government after it cancelled his visa, Novak Djokovic, who had been the center of controversy since his arrival in Melbourne on Jan. 5, issued a statement. In it, he wrote:

“I would like to make a brief statement to address the outcomes of today’s Court hearing. I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this.

“I am extremely disappointed with the Court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open.

“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the revenant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.

“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love. I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.

“Finally, I would like to than my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me.”

Complexion of men’s draw drastically different without Djokovic

With Novak Djokovic‘s defeat in Australian court and subsequent deportation from Australia on Sunday, it suddenly changes the complexion of the Australian Open men’s singles draw – especially at the top.

As the No. 1 seed, Djokovic was anchored at the top of the 128-player draw. He was scheduled to play his first match Monday evening on Rod Laver Arena against Miomir Kecmanovic. Instead, following Djokovic’s forced withdrawal, his place has been taken by 150th-ranked lucky loser Salvatore Caruso of Italy, a chosen lucky loser, who will play Kecmanovic in a match that has been moved off the big stage and replaced by No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany against fellow countryman Daniel Altmaier.

The remaining seeds in Djokovic’s former quarter of the draw are: No. 7 Matteo Berrettini of Italy, No. 12 Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, No. 16 Cristian Garin of Chile, No. 17 Gaël Monfils of France, No. 19 Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, No. 25 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy and No. 31 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain.

With Djokovic out, there’s only one former Australian Open champion in the men’s draw – Rafael Nadal, who won his only Australian Open title in 2009. The last time there was an Australian Open played without Djokovic or Roger Federer, who isn’t in Melbourne this year while recovering from knee injury, was in 1999. The highest seed remaining in the men’s draw is No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who defeated Djokovic to win the 2021 US Open, the last major played.

Monday’s Australian Open order of play

Opening day of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park begins at 11 a.m. local time (1 a.m. Monday CET, midnight London, 7 p.m. Sunday New York). On the order of play are a total of 64 matches (32 men’s first round singles and 32 women’s first round singles), featuring the upper half of both men’s and women’s draws.

The upper half of the men’s and women’s draw begin play on Monday, while the lower half starts on Tuesday. The 2022 Australian Open runs from Jan. 17-30.

Barty No. 1 women’s seed for third straight year

While much of the news leading into this year’s Australia Open has centered around Novak Djokovic, on the women’s side of the draw, World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty is the No. 1 seed for the third straight year. She’s bidding to become the first Australian to win the “Happy Slam” since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

In Barty’s first tournament since last fall’s US Open, Barty won the Adelaide International 1 earlier this month and dropped just one set en route to the title.

“I just have to hope that everyone understands that I’m giving it my best crack,” Barty said on Saturday during her media day appearance. “It doesn’t always work out exactly how you want to. But you go about it the right way, you do the right things and try and give yourself the best chance, that’s all you can do.

“I can’t do any more than I can try. That’s all I can do. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”

Barty opens Monday’s night session on Rod Laver Arena against 119th-ranked qualifier Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine.

Looking ahead for Barty, the potential looms for a big fourth-round showdown against defending champion and four-time major titlist Naomi Osaka of Japan. The grounded Barty said of Osaka: “She’s proven time and time again that she is able to perform on the biggest stage. She plays her way. She’s dominant. She’s been dominant on hard court slams the last few years. It certainly is nice to see her back smiling and enjoying her tennis again.”

By the numbers

At 24 years 285 days, No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev is looking to become the youngest Grand Slam men’s singles champion since Novak Djokovic won the 2012 Australian Open aged 24 years 252 days.

• There are six women who are making their Grand Slam main draw debut at the Australian Open: Robin Anderson and Emma Bektas, both of the United States; Anna Bondar of Hungary, Lucia Bronzetti of Italy, Jaqueline Cristian of Romania and Arianne Hartono of the Netherlands.

“Quotable …”

“I just want to feel like every time I step on the court, I’m having fun. I can walk off the court knowing that even if I lost, I tried as hard as I could. I just feel like for me, I’m the type of person that cared a little bit too much about the results and the ranking and stuff like that.

“And I just need to find a way to enjoy the game again because that’s the reason why I was playing in the first place.”

Naomi Osaka of Japan, two-time defending Australian Open women’s singles champion, during Saturday’s media day, on her goal for this season. The World No. 14 and 13th-seeded Osaka plays her first-round match Monday against No. 50 Camila Osorio of Colombia.