World No 1 Novak Djokovic had his Australian visa cancelled for a second time on Friday, December 14, over his Covid-19 vaccine status.

The 34-year-old won a court appeal earlier and was back in training as the Australian government decided on its next steps, but his bid to defend his Australian Open title and win a record 21st Grand Slam title is now in serious peril.

Here’s a look at how the drama has unfolded in Australia:

Sunday, January 2

Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said Sunday there was still “quite a bit to play out” on whether Djokovic will defend his title in Melbourne, with a clearer picture “in the coming days”.

“We’ve still got a few charter flights coming in until the end of this week and then all the players will be here,” he told the Nine Network.

“As far as the status relates to Novak, I think we’ll have a much clearer picture in the coming days otherwise it’s getting pretty late to show up and play the Australian Open.”

“There’s quite a bit to play out and I think it will play out in the coming days,” he had added.

It would turn out be an understatement.

Tuesday, January 4

It all begins with an Instagram post. Even though plenty had been happening in the lead-up to that behind the scenes, it was Djokovic’s confirmation that he had received the exemption that kickstarted the episode. He said that he is heading to the Australian Open to defend his title after being granted an ‘exemption permission’ to play.

What we knew at that point was that all participants at the Australian Open, which starts on January 17, need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption, assessed by an independent panel of experts. While many players had already travelled Down Under, the Serb’s participation at the opening Grand Slam of the year at Melbourne Park had been subject of intense speculation for months.

“I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022,” his message read.

And soon, the madness began.

Wednesday, January 5

Australian Open tournament chief Craig Tiley said that 26 players or their support staff from the 3,000 or so travelling had asked for an exemption, but only a few were successful.

“There’s been no special favour. There’s been no special opportunity granted to Novak,” said Tiley.

Stephen Parnis, a former Australian Medical Association vice-president, said it sent an “appalling message” to people trying to stop the spread of Covid-19. “I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in,” Parnis said on Twitter.

Late Wednesday, Djokovic landed at Melbourne airport.

Thursday, January 6

It emerged that the Border Force notified Djokovic of their intent to cancel the entry visa in Melbourne after quizzing him during the early hours.

“I am not vaccinated against Covid-19,” Djokovic told Australian border control, according to a transcript released by the federal court on Monday. It is worth noting that the Serbian ace had repeatedly refused to confirm in public if he had been inoculated, and this was in effect the first official statement regarding his vaccination status.

“Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled,” the Australian Border Force said in a statement.

Then, Djokovic is moved to an immigration detention centre while his lawyers lodge an appeal regarding the visa cancellation.

The incident sparks an immediate spat. Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic said he spoke with Djokovic over the phone and told him that “the whole of Serbia is with him and that our authorities are undertaking all measures in order that maltreatment of the world’s best tennis player ends as soon as possible”.

The player’s father Srdjan said his son was “held captive for five hours”.

“Jesus was crucified and endured many things but is still alive among us,” he said on Orthodox Christmas Eve. “Novak is also crucified... the best sportsman and man in the world. He will endure.”

Player reactions also start coming in at this point.

From Rafa Nadal to Nick Kyrgios: Who’s saying what about Novak Djokovic’s situation in Australia

Friday, January 7

In his first social media message since leaving for Australia, Djokovic thanked fans for their support. “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated,” he wrote on Instagram story. Jelena Djokovic also posted a message for Christmas.

Meanwhile, Czech doubles player Renata Voracova, who also entered on an exemption as she had recently recovered from Covid, ended up in the same detention facility as Djokovic. The 38-year-old told Czech media the centre “is like a prison” with guards on every floor.

The Djokovic issue threw light on the issue of the detention center.

Saturday, January 8

Djokovic was given a Covid-19 vaccine exemption because he tested positive for the virus on December 16, his lawyers said in a 32-page court filing. There was some confusion over whether Djokovic knew on the 16th that he had tested positive (which has since been confirmed). However, reports then emerged that Djokovic was at a young players event in Belgrade the following day (December 17, as per the multiple posts) without a mask.

The Belgrade tennis federation, in a Facebook post after the December 17 ceremony, reports that Djokovic had handed over cups and awards to the best young players of 2021. A report on L’Equipe claimed that Djokovic participated in a photoshoot on December 18. “On December 18, Novak Djokovic posed without a mask during the presentation of the “Champion of Champions 2021” trophy from L’Équipe. However, his lawyers are now announcing that he has been positive for Covid since the 16th. (Étienne Garnier / L’Équipe),” the caption to the photo read.

His lawyers also claimed that he was held at Melbourne airport on his arrival for eight hours, mostly incommunicado. In this time, Voracova left Australia.

Sunday, January 9

Australia’s government in court filings said Djokovic is not vaccinated against Covid-19 and his legal battle to stay in the country should be dismissed. Government lawyers rejected a separate argument that Djokovic was treated unfairly because he was pressured into letting a border agent take a decision on his visa without giving him extra time to rest and consult his lawyers.

Judge Anthony Kelly ordered Monday’s hearing to go ahead, refusing a government request to adjourn until Wednesday.

Monday, January 10

Djokovic’s appeal hearing opened but it was repeatedly delayed by glitches as the court’s online system crashed due to a surge of worldwide interest. But after several delays and arguments made by Djokovic’s legal team and Canberra’s lawyers, the world No 1 earned a rather stunning victory over the Australia government.

The judge ordered that he “be released immediately and forthwith from immigration detention”. The presiding judge overturned the cancellation of the unvaccinated star’s visa, ending his detention.

The court’s finding, read out in an online hearing, said the government had conceded that its actions were “unreasonable” because the player was not given the chance to reply fully before his visa was torn up.

In the early hours of Thursday, Djokovic was told he had until 8:30 am (2130 GMT Wednesday) to reply to the proposed cancellation of his visa. But instead, the border agent cancelled it at 7:42 am.

Had Djokovic been given until 8:30 am as first promised, “he could have consulted others and made submissions to the delegate about why his visa should not be cancelled,” the judge said.

According to a transcript of the airport interview, Djokovic told the border control agent: “I just really don’t understand what is the reason you don’t allow me to enter your country.”

Here’s a section of that interview with the border force interviewer in the early hours last Thursday that has now been made public:

Interviewer: - I will give you like, you know, 20 minutes – or whatever if you need more time you can request that – and you need to provide us reasons why we shouldn’t cancel the visa.

Djokovic: I mean, I am really failing to understand what else do you want me to provide to you. I have provided all the documents that Tennis Australia and Victorian government has asked me to do in the last three/four weeks, this is what we have been doing. My agent and I have been in a constant communication through my agent with Tennis Australia and Victorian state government, the medical panel. They – whatever they asked us to do – this is their set of rules that they have provided so they have allowed to have the medical exemption for the Covid vaccination. I applied, they approved, I just really don’t know what else do you want me to say. What – I just – I have nothing else – I arrived here because of these documents otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed to come in. I just really don’t understand what is the reason you don’t allow me to enter your country – just I mean, I have been waiting four hours and I still fail to, to understand what’s the main reason – like – lack of what papers? Lack of what information do you need? Or?

INTERVIEWER: Ah yep, so I am just going to read out all of the information to you and I’m going to give you a copy of this as well. So everything is in there. But yeah, I have to go through this process and then the explanation you have given me, I mean, you can give it to me after the timeframe which we give you. The 20 minutes we have to give you.

Djokovic: So you’re giving me legally 20 minutes to try to provide additional information that I don’t have? At 4 o clock in the morning? I mean you kind of put me in a very awkward position where at 4 in the morning I can’t call director of Tennis Australia, I can’t engage with anybody from the Victorian state government through Tennis Australia. I just you put me in a very uncomfortable position. I don’t know what else can I tell you. Everything that that they – I was asked to do is here.  And I wouldn’t be here sitting in front of you if I wasn’t complying to all the rules and regulations set by your government. So I just – I don’t know what I I mean – to me it is a little bit shocking that you are have – that you are going to give me the notice to cancel my visa based on what?

— Part of the transcript from

The government conceded that the way it conducted the airport interview was “unreasonable” because the player was not given the chance to reply fully before his visa was torn up. Had Djokovic been given until 8:30 am to respond as first promised, the judge says, “he could have consulted others and made submissions to the delegate about why his visa should not be cancelled.”

A government lawyer said Immigration Minister Alex Hawke may still decide to use his “personal power of cancellation” to intervene in the case despite the legal victory.

Soon after the decision was made, and it was reported that Djokovic will at least be free for the night in Melbourne before a further decision comes from the immigration ministry, there were reports of clashes in the city between police and fans.

Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal said “it is the fairest thing” for his long-time on-court rival to play in the Australian Open.

“Regardless of whether or not I agree on some things with Djokovic, without any doubt, justice has spoken,” Nadal told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.

Later in the day, Djokovic was back training on the court that he is more used to, his brother said hours after he won a stunning victory in the court.

“Novak is free. A little while ago he was training on the court. He went to Australia to play tennis, to play another Australian Open and set another record,” his brother Djordje said during a press conference in the Serbian capital Belgrade.

Djokovic’s mother called the decision by the judge permitting him to stay in Australia the biggest victory of her son’s career.

“This is the biggest victory in his career, bigger than all his Grand Slams,” said his mother Dijana Djokovic.

The world No 1 tweeted an image of him training as well, saying he was “pleased and grateful” at the judge’s decision to reverse the cancellation of his visa and he still hoped to play in the Australian Open.

Tuesday, January 11

Djokovic trains at the Australian Open venue after his release.

– Australian officials investigate whether Djokovic submitted a false travel declaration upon arrival at Melbourne airport.

Wednesday, January 12

Djokovic’s mother Dijana says he probably “did not know” about his positive Covid test when he mixed with the public in Serbia without a mask in December.

– Djokovic releases another statement, admitting “errors” in his travel papers and in his behaviour after a claimed coronavirus infection.

Full text: Novak Djokovic issues statement regarding events after RT-PCR positive test

He says his team had offered fresh information to the Australian government, which was still pondering whether to cancel his visa again and throw him out of the country.

– Hawke’s spokesman says “lengthy further submissions” from Djokovic’s legal team had delayed a decision on his visa.

Thursday, January 13

Australian PM Scott Morrison holds a press conference, saying no decision has yet been made on Djokovic’s visa.

– Djokovic is drawn in the Australian Open first round against Serbian compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic as uncertainty remains over his participation.

– World number four Stefanos Tsitsipas says Djokovic put the Australian Open at risk and made other players “look like fools”.

Friday, January 14

Ahead of a decision, Australian Finance Minister Simon Birmingham says the country only lets in foreign nationals who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 or have an acceptable medical exemption.

“That policy has not changed and we will continue to apply that policy rigorously,” Birmingham tells national broadcaster ABC.

– Djokovic trains again at the Australian Open courts as he awaits a decision.

– Australia’s government cancels Djokovic’s visa for a second time.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke says he acted on “health and good order grounds on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hawke says in a statement.

The cancellation means Djokovic could be barred from a new Australian visa for three years, except under certain circumstances.

Morrison says the visa cancellation protected the “sacrifices” of the Australian people.

(With AFP inputs)