Deportation, defaults and more - Five recent Novak Djokovic controversies

As Novak Djokovic awaits his fate in Melbourne, we explore his other recent controversies.

After initially winning his appeal, the world No.1 was allowed to remain in Melbourne and looked set to take part in the Australian Open this month. But, a statement from the Australian Immigration Minister on Friday stated the government's intention to cancel Novak Djokovic's visa once again, leaving him unable to defend his title.

Djokovic is no stranger to controversy but the astonishing drama surrounding the deportation that leaves him unable to defend his Australian Open title is perhaps the greatest yet.

While Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have forged reputations for themselves as squeaky clean perfect sporting role models, Djokovic has often been on the receiving end of damaging headlines.

There are always two sides to every story, though, so we run through his recent controversies and attempt to at least offer some balance by also stating the case for the defence.

Accusations of faking injury

Djokovic has proven himself to be one of the fittest athletes in the world, although that ability to appear like he is defying medical science has caused suspicion before.

As far back as the 2008 US Open he fell out with former world number one Andy Roddick over it, with the American joking Djokovic had "two ankle injuries, bird flu, and SARS" during his quarter-final match yet still won it after two medical time-outs.

The pair then met in the semi-finals with Djokovic winning again.

Roddick is not the only player to cast accusations at Djokovic, though. At the 2020 French Open Pablo Carreno Busta was in ascendancy before a medical time-out was called by the Serbian.

Djokovic improved greatly and won the match, yet Carreno Busta raged: "Every time a match gets difficult, he seeks medical attention."

Novak Djokovic tends to an injury at the Australian Open

Last year's Australian Open was another time when Djokovic produced a miraculous recovery. The Serbian was 2-0 up against Taylor Fritz but then appeared to suffer an abdomen tear.

Fritz quickly rattled off two sets to level as Djokovic visibly struggled, but the world number one won the decisive set to take the match. He ultimately won the tournament.

In Djokovic's defence: As revealed in his autobiography, early in his career he had not yet identified a gluten intolerance and as a result his energy levels were affected in longer matches.

Additionally, Djokovic is sometimes so good he looks like he is doing things others are incapable of. That's why he has won as much as he has.

Adria Tour COVID outbreak

After the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, tennis found itself unable to carry on safely and was forced to suspend the ATP and WTA Tours for a number of months.

Most players went into an intensive training programme in isolation at home, sometimes even only allowing their coaches to involve themselves via Zoom.

Djokovic, though, used the time to organise an exhibition tour designed to help tennis players from the Balkan countries - the Adria Tour.

Novak Djokovic at Adria Tour

While much of the world was in lockdown and sport went behind closed doors, the Adria Tour played to packed out stadiums in Belgrade and Zadar with Djokovic its poster child.

Of course, the inevitable happened and there was a major Covid-19 outbreak at the event after players were photographed in nightclubs and playing basketball together.

Djokovic himself tested positive for the virus, as did his wife, coach Goran Ivanisevic, and many of the event's staff members. The tour was cancelled and Djokovic was cast in the role of irresponsible super-spreader for the lack of safety protocols.

In Djokovic's defence: While the US, Australia, and much of Europe was in a total lockdown, the same could not be said for the countries in which the Adria Tour was held.

Ultimately, they followed the rules of their host countries.

US Open disqualification

Novak Djokovic with line judge at 2020 US Open

If Djokovic retired tomorrow, there is every chance that many casual fans will remember him best for the extraordinary events of the 2020 US Open.

With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both absent, it appeared inevitable that Djokovic would cruise to another Grand Slam title on his favourite surface.

In the early rounds he looked comfortable, but Pablo Carreno Busta gave him a tough first set in the fourth round. After failing to salvage it, Djokovic hit a ball away in frustration and it struck a female line-judge in the throat. Djokovic was defaulted from the tournament.

Djokovic immediately apologised, saying: "This whole situation has left me really sad and empty.

"I checked on the linesperson and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling OK.

"I'm extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong."

"I apologise to the US Open tournament and everyone associated for my behaviour. I'm very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me.

"Thank you and I'm so sorry."

In Djokovic's defence: It was clear that Djokovic was as shocked as anyone else by the incident and immediately remorseful.

There can be no doubt that it was an accident borne of frustration rather than the assault borne or malice that many of his detractors wanted to claim it to be at the time.

Public anti-vaccination stance

It's fair to say that Djokovic often has a bit of a fraught relationship with science. In 2020 he claimed that positive emotions could purify polluted water, for example.

"I've seen people and I know some people that, through that energetical transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, they manage to turn the most toxic food or most polluted water, into the most healing water.

"Because water reacts and scientists have proven that, that molecules in the water react to our emotions, to what is being said."

Novak Djokovic deported

It was no real surprise, then, that the Serbian has taken an anti-vaccination stance since the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn't want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel," he said on an interview in Serbia on the issue.

He later backtracked a little, conceding he was not an expert and he was more pro-choice than he was anti-vaccine, although for many the damage had been done.

Obviously events this week have shown that his choice was very much to be anti-vaccine, so perhaps it amounts to the same, and his detractors claimed it was irresponsible for a figure of his influence to publicly denounce vaccination in the middle of a global pandemic.

In Djokovic's defence: It's tough to find any defence here, although ultimately many, probably most, will agree that vaccination should indeed be a personal choice.

Deported from Australia

Djokovic's choice not to get vaccinated appears to have come with some consequences as it could see him denied the chance to defend his Australian Open title. That may end up costing him his world number one spot too. 

The Australian government made the decision months ago that any players entering the country for the event would need to be vaccinated or medically exempt and, for months, Djokovic refused to answer the question regarding his vaccination status.

2021 Australian Open champion Serbia's Novak Djokovic poses for photos with champion trophy at Melbourne Brighton Beach, in Melbourne, Australia, Feb. 22, 2021.

As the tournament grew closer, he essentially answered the question by not traveling to Australia well in advance of the tournament as he normally does. Eventually, he put all doubt to bed by declaring on social media that he was Australia-bound after receiving a medical exemption.

The only problem is, he hadn't. Djokovic was detained at Melbourne airport and ultimately denied entry to the country with government officials revealing he had not provided "satisfactory" evidence to validate the exemption that existed on his visa.

Djokovic's supporters have claimed it was all just a publicity stunt for a government panicked by an angry public reaction to him being allowed to come to Australia without being vaccinated. Others argue he should not have received the exemption in the first place.

It all got a little messy, though. Whilst being held at the airport, Djokovic's father threatened to 'take to the streets' to fight for his release, whilst the Serbian prime minister Aleksandar Vucic wrote on Instagram: "I just finished a phone conversation with Novak Djokovic.

"I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him, and that our authorities are taking all measures to stop the harassment of the best tennis player in the world in the shortest possible period.

"In accordance with all norms of international public law, Serbia will fight for Novak Djokovic, for justice and truth."

Novak Djokovic with Australian Open trophy

The Australian prime minister got involved too, tweeting that 'rules are rules' and Djokovic had simply failed to follow them so would be treated the same as anyone else.

Meanwhile, Australian health minister Greg Hunt calmly explained: "The visa for Novak Djokovic has been cancelled.

"Obviously, that follows a review of the exemption, which was provided through the Victorian Government process, they were looking at the integrity and the evidence behind it."

Djokovic then started preparing for the event, but the Friday before it was due to start the Australian government issued an executive order to cancel his visa again. 

That left him back in detainment while a court hearing for a judicial review of the decision could be arranged. However, that did not go in the Serbian's favour, and the order to deport him was upheld.

Novak Djokovic to be deported from Australia

"I'd like to make a brief statement to address the outcomes of today's Court hearing," Novak Djokovic said in a statement.

"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 ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the 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'll cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from Australia.

"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."

In Djokovic's defence: Djokovic was not the only player who applied for a medical exemption to enter the country without vaccination and not the only successful one either.

It's worth noting that two independent medical panels approved his application prior to his arrival in Australia.

ALSO READ: All you need to know ahead of the 2022 Australian Open, with Novak Djokovic unable to defend title

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