Why Novak Djokovic could still play in this year’s Australian Open

He may be barred from entering Australia for the next three years, but Novak Djokovic could still make it to the next Australian Open.

Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley hinted that Novak Djokovic may apply for his re-entry ban to be overturned.

Nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic last played in – and won – the tournament in 2021, when COVID-19 vaccination was not a requirement to enter the country.

But the 35-year-old was sensationally eliminated before the 2022 tournament when border forces cancelled his visa, detained him and deported him to Serbia.

Djokovic attempted to have the decision overturned in court. But his case was dismissed just a day out from Round 1.

Along with his visa cancellation came an automatic three-year re-entry ban, meaning the tennis star was expected to miss the AO in 2023, 2024 and 2025.

But despite the legal turmoil, Mr Tiley speculated that Djokovic may appeal against the decision to play in the 2023 Australian Open.

“I do know he’d like to return to the AO,” Mr Tiley told the Herald Sun.

“[Djokovic is] the nine-time champion and of course we always want the best players in the world to compete. It’s a matter between him and the relevant federal authorities.”

In order to enter the country, Djokovic will need to apply for a waiver, to be approved or denied by the federal government.

With vaccination no longer a requirement for entry, one immigration law specialist told TND that the reduced restrictions could work in Djokovic’s favour.

Novak Djokovic was deported before the 2022 Australian Open. Photo: Getty

Relaxed restrictions

At the time of the last Australian Open, international travellers were required to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination under the Australian Travel Declaration.

The only individuals exempt from this requirement were children under the age of 12 years and three months.

Travellers had to have been vaccinated with any of the TGA-approved vaccinations. Otherwise, they were not considered vaccinated for the purposes of their travel.

Travellers also had to complete pre-departure PCR testing, and provide a negative COVID test upon arrival.

Because Djokovic did not meet vaccination requirements, and was not found to have a valid medical exemption, he was deported.

But nine months later, restrictions have relaxed, with none of these measures required by Australian authorities.

‘Compelling circumstances’

In order for the federal government to overturn Djokovic’s three-year ban, the player and his team would need to show that his entry is in Australia’s best interests.

“He’d have to show that there are compelling circumstances in the interest of Australia to lift that bar,” accredited immigration law specialist Dushan Nikolic told TND.

“[A] potential argument may be that it’s in Australia’s interests to have the best tennis player able to compete over the next three years at the Australian Open.

“And obviously, I’m sure that it’s possible to put financial arguments forward to support that.”

Asked whether the drastically different restrictions would help Djokovic’s case, Mr Nikolic said he thought “it would”.

Novak Djokovic
Djokovic has won the Australian Open a record nine times. Photo: AAP

Mr Nikolic said he thought the tennis star had a good case.

“So my personal view, is that I would expect him to be able to play next year’s Australian Open.”

Battle of the greats

With Ash Barty, Roger Federer and Serena Williams retiring this year, Tennis Australia is likely keen to rake in as many big names as possible.

Only Rafael Nadal and Djokovic remain in the contest for the most grand slam titles.

After his stunning AO victory this year, Nadal reigns supreme with 22 grand slam titles – an all-time record.

Djokovic, just one short with 21, will surely be hoping to smash that record. And with Melbourne Park’s hard courts famously his surface of choice, the odds may be in his favour.

Battle for the GOAT: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Photo: Getty

Djokovic’s vaccination stance has cost him dearly during the pandemic, keeping him away from the US Open last month and several ATP events around the world.

But it’s a price Djokovic has said he is “willing to pay”.

“I say that everybody has the right to choose or act or say or feel whatever is appropriate for them,” he told the BBC in February.

“The principles of decision making on my body are more important than any title or anything else.”

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