Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has been granted a visa to compete in the Australian Open in January, the Australian government confirmed Thursday, a year after he was deported from the country over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Djokovic’s visa was canceled on arrival in Melbourne in January when his vaccination exemption was questioned, and he was deported 10 days later after having lost an appeal. The ban could have lasted three years.
Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said that since then, Australia had lifted all Covid-related border restrictions, including the requirement that foreign visitors show proof of vaccination.
“Mr. Djokovic has subsequently been granted a temporary visa to enter Australia,” Giles said in a statement.
Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion, said he got the news Tuesday and was “very happy.”
“Australian Open has been my most successful Grand Slam. I made some of the best memories there,” Djokovic, 35, said at a news conference Wednesday at the season-ending ATP Finals tournament in Turin, Italy. “Of course I want to go back there, I want to play tennis, do what I do best, hopefully have a great Australian summer.”
Tennis Australia, which organizes the tournament, also welcomed the decision.
“We always strive to have all the best players in the world competing here in Melbourne in January, and we look forward to delivering the best possible tournament for both the players and fans,” it said in a statement.
Australia had some of the world’s toughest pandemic border restrictions, and Australians were infuriated by reports that Djokovic, whose vaccination status was uncertain at the time, had received a medical exemption for the tournament in a surge in virus cases. Among Djokovic’s most prominent critics was then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said he should not get special treatment.
The 10-day saga put Djokovic at the center of the global debate over Covid vaccination mandates, which also prevented him from competing in the U.S. Open over the summer.
Djokovic last won the Australian Open in 2021. Spanish rival Rafael Nadal won the tournament this year in Djokovic’s absence.