Novak Djokovic Australian Open 2021

Opinion: Letting Djokovic play would rub salt into the unhealed wounds of many Australians

Tennis Australia revealed its plans for a much-enhanced customer experience at the 2023 Australian Open, with aspirations for a significant increase in attendance. Tennishead examines whether all the new benefits will make up for the one likely missing ingredient at the Open, that Tennis Australia can’t influence.

The official launch of the Australian Open took place yesterday, and did so amid over-hyped excitement and announcements of a bigger and better Open.

Tennis Australia signalled their ambition to host a record-breaking 900,000 fans at the 2023 Open and are turning the event into an extravaganza of tennis and tennis-related entertainment. There are added draw cards aplenty, such as a Beach Bar with an elevated second-storey DJ platform, an all-new AO tennis club where fans can have a go at tennis hot shots, padel, pop, cardio, totem and table tennis.

In addition, the kid’s day will be re-introduced and an improved and bigger AO Ballpark, with aerial activity, a waterslide and tennis Hot Shots courts, is being created. There is also a new Finals Festival ground pass to swell the numbers on the final weekend of the tournament and Tennis Australia are promising the adult pass buyers, who will have parted with $39 for themselves and $9 for each of their kids, an early evening of excitement in the Kia Arena, where they will be entertained by local and international artists.

As well as all the entertainment and fanfare, the Australian Open is promising to attract a wider base of money spending Melbournian’s, looking for a day or night out, at one of Australia’s two annual truly international sporting events. On top of that, there is the promise that everybody visiting the Open will be able to see the best tennis players in the world. Or is there?

One player who might well not be appearing on the blue hard courts of Melbourne this year is nine times Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic. The current world number seven, and twenty-one-times Grand Slam winner, has been banned from Australia for three years after being deported and having his visa cancelled for breaching the vaccination requirements to enter Australia in January this year.


Djokovic Australian Open 2021


There are, though, still questions being asked about whether Novak will be eligible to enter Australia and play at the Open in 2023. Craig Tiley, the CEO of Tennis Australia, appeared very bullish only a couple of weeks ago when he announced that all the top players would be coming to the Australian Open and tennis fans would be able to see all the best players in the world. These comments were surprising as there appears to have been no decision made yet as to whether Djokovic will be given a visa to enter Australia or not. As things stand now, he has no visa and shouldn’t expect one for three years. Indeed, many were surprised that Mr. Tiley kept his job at Tennis Australia after what appeared to be a very clumsy attempt to manipulating an outcome that would have allowed Djokovic to remain in Australia at the beginning of 2022 despite the Serbian being in clear violation of the visa requirements.

Tennis Australia are clearly very keen for Djokovic to be allowed to compete in the Open in 2023. Considering there will be no Roger Federer, Ash Barty or Serena Williams, and Rafael Nadal’s participation isn’t entirely certain either due to possible injury concerns and that he has become a father very recently (tennishead sends huge congratulations to Rafa and Mery ‘Xisca’ Perelló on their birth of their son). Without Djokovic, the Open will be less of an event, as it was in 2022 and the US Open was last month. In a familiar tale, Djokovic was denied entry to the United States because he was in breach of vaccination requirements.

The ban can be overturned by the federal government in Australia, but the sports minister for Victoria (the state where the Open is held), Steve Dimopoulos, has said that the state government has no plans to go into bat for Djokovic at a federal level. The shadow home affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, who was the home affairs minister when the decision to deport Djokovic and give him a three-year visa ban was made, told the ABC (Australian broadcasting Company): “It would be a slap in the face for those people in Australia who did the right thing, got vaccinated, did everything they needed to do if all of a sudden, Novak Djokovic is allowed back in the country, simply because he is a high-ranking tennis player with many millions of dollars”

Craig Tiley, was questioned again on Wednesday 12th October at the Australian Open 2023 launch about Djokovic’s participation, and he said that the decision was not tennis Australia’s to make, but that Djokovic would be invited to play if eligible. “We will always welcome him back; he is a nine-times champion,” Tiley said.

It is impossible not to acknowledge the suffering that many Australians went through during the covid pandemic. Australia was, after all, one of the most locked-down countries and Melbourne (where the Open is held) was the longest locked-down city in the world. Tennishead thinks that it would be grossly unfair to let Djokovic back into Australia after cancelling his visa in January 2022 and banning him from entering the country for three years, especially as thousands of Australians were effectively locked out of their own country for over a year, and those who didn’t leave were unable to move interstate without being forced into an expensive and grim quarantine.

Many Australians won’t forgive either their state or federal governments for how they treated their own people during the pandemic, and allowing a multi-millionaire sportsman into the country, after he has been given a lengthy ban, would rub salt into the unhealed and raw wounds of many Aussies.

If you enjoyed this then check out all of Tennishead’s weekly opinion articles.

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Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.