Novak Djokovic Loses Deportation Appeal in Australia Hours Before Tournament

The top tennis player in the world lost a court decision Sunday in Australia just one day before he was to take the court to solidify himself as the best in his game's history. Novak Djokovic had an appeal for his canceled visa rejected.

Now, the Serbian who's won 20 grand slam events and is the all-time winningest player at the Australian Open, won't be able to defend his title.

Djokovic was scheduled to take the court at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Monday night (3 a.m. ET Monday in the U.S.) against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic. At 2:30 a.m. ET on Sunday, Djokovic was still listed on the tournament's website as a player in the Open.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 14, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Here's what transpired to get to this point.

Djokovic landed at an airport in Australia a week and a half ago to get ready for the 2022 Australian Open, but a snafu with his visa application led to him being held in a police-guarded room for about 12 hours, and with Aussie authorities saying the tennis champ would likely be deported for not having required vaccination to be in the country.

The government declared Djokovic a health risk since he hasn't been vaccinated for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Djokovic said he had a medical exemption that had been approved and would allow him to play.

Last week, after a lengthy hearing in Melbourne, a judge overturned the visa cancellation. Then, Australia Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his power to cancel Djokovic's visa. This had to go before another hearing on the eve of the first grand slam tournament of the year.

Hawke said he issued the second cancellation for "health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so."

"In making this decision I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic," Hawke said in a statement. "The [Australia Prime Minister Scott] Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Australia, which has some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions in the world, has seen a spike in recent cases by the tens of thousands. In Australia's population of those age 16 and over, more than 90 percent have been fully vaccinated. Despite that, there are people who still aren't allowed to travel between states or internationally.

Serbians and ant-vaxxers feel that Djokovic is a puppet for the Australian government, including Serbian president Aleksander Vucic said the Djokovic was a victim of "harassment." Vucic added "the whole of Serbia" supports their tennis hero. The Serbian people have been outraged, and so have the anti-vaxxers, who call for a foul.

Djokovic went to Australia seeking a record 10th title in the country's most prestigious tennis tournament. He never set foot on a court to defend his three-consecutive Australian Open titles, but it looks like it could be game, set, and match already against the decorated champion.

Djokovic has been the No. 1 player in the world for 354 weeks, including the current top spot. He's won 20 grand slam titles, with nine of them coming at the Australian Open in Melbourne. He was the No. 1 seed in this year's tournament.

The Australian Open, which is the first of the four grand slam tennis tournaments, starts Jan. 17 in Melbourne. The other grand slam events are the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.