Despite initially being in the draw at the BNP Paribas Open, and publicly stating his desire to play, Novak Djokovic will not be competing there or at the Miami Open. Current CDC regulations require non-US citizens to be fully vaccinated to travel to the United States by plane, and the 20-time major champion is unvaccinated against COVID-19.
It’s just the latest in a turbulent year: Entering the year ranked No. 1 and looking to win what would have been a record-breaking 21st major title at the Australian Open, Djokovic arrived Down Under having received a medical exemption, but quickly found himself at the center of a global media storm and legal battle. Ultimately, his visa was revoked by the Australian government and he was deported before play got underway.
Since then he’s been supplanted atop the rankings by Daniil Medvedev, and Rafael Nadal broke the Grand Slam record in Melbourne. While it remains unclear when Djokovic will play next as restrictions and policies continue to change worldwide, for now he remains on the sidelines.
How did one of the best tennis players of all time get to this point? Here is a timeline of the events that led up to the present:
March 9, 2022: Djokovic announces he is out of BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open
Djokovic tweeted that he will not be playing in Indian Wells or in Miami:
While I was automatically listed in the @BNPPARIBASOPEN and @MiamiOpen draw I knew it would be unlikely I’d be able to travel. The CDC has confirmed that regulations won’t be changing so I won’t be able to play in the US. Good luck to those playing in these great tournaments 👊
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) March 9, 2022
The BNP Paribas Open released a statement as well, saying: « Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the BNP Paribas Open. As the next player in line to be seeded, Grigor Dimitrov will move into Djokovic’s space in the draw, and a Lucky Loser from qualifying will move into Dimitrov’s space in the draw once qualifying is complete. »
Feb 28, 2022: Djokovic falls to No. 2 in ATP rankings
Djokovic was replaced by Daniil Medvedev after his quarterfinal loss in the Dubai Championships. His latest stay in the top spot began on Feb. 3, 2020, and Djokovic’s total of 361 weeks there are the most for any man since the tour’s computerized rankings began in 1973.
Feb. 21, 2022: Djokovic wins his first match of the year
Djokovic defeated Lorenzo Musetti 6-3, 6-3 to open the Dubai Championships. « I have to be satisfied with my tennis, especially after not playing for two and a half, three months, » Djokovic said on court. « Of course, there were moments when I played great, there were moments when I made a couple of unforced errors in a row uncharacteristically. But it’s normal to expect that [in my] first game after a while. »
Three days later, he loses 6-4, 7-6 (4) to Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely in the quarterfinals.
Feb 15, 2022: Djokovic says he will opt out of future Grand Slams with vaccine mandates
In his first interview after being deported from Australia, Djokovic reiterated his stance on not getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and said he would opt out of playing in future majors that would require him getting inoculated. « Yes, that is the price that I’m willing to pay, » he told the BBC.
Jan. 16, 2022: Djokovic loses appeal, out of Australian Open
Three Federal Court judges upheld a decision made earlier by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serbian’s visa on public interest grounds.
Jan. 6, 2022: Djokovic denied entry into Australia; visa canceled
After being detained for about eight hours at the airport upon arrival, the 20-time major winner is denied entry to the country and his visa is canceled. The Australian Border Force says Djokovic failed to meet entry requirements. Health Minister Greg Hunt says the visa cancellation followed a review of Djokovic’s medical exemption — which was expected to shield him from the strict COVID-19 vaccination regulations in place — by border officials who looked « at the integrity and the evidence behind it. «
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweets: « Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. »
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2022
The tennis star is brought to a hotel used to house immigration detainees in Carlton, an inner-northern suburb of Melbourne, where he remains for four nights. Fans gather in protest outside the hotel.
Djokovic’s wife, Jelena, takes to Twitter to share her thoughts on the situation.
Thank you dear people, all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband. I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening. 🙏
—Jelena Djokovic (@jelenadjokovic) January 7, 2022
Jan. 4, 2022: Djokovic announces he is heading Down Under with medical exemption
Djokovic reveals he will compete at the tennis season’s opening Grand Slam event after receiving a medical exemption from getting vaccinated against COVID-19. He posts a photo of himself at an airport on Instagram with a caption that reads, in part: « I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. » Tennis Australia follows with a statement confirming Djokovic is on his way to the country with a medical exemption that has been « granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts. »
Neither Djokovic nor Tennis Australia reveals the basis for his exemption. Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley says a « handful » of exemptions had been granted out of 26 applications from players or others.
Dec. 29, 2021: Djokovic pulls out of ATP Cup
Days before the competition is due to begin in Sydney, Djokovic withdraws from Serbia’s team for the ATP Cup. No reason is given.
« Novak Djokovic has officially withdrawn from the ATP Cup in Sydney, we have no update as yet on his plans for the Australian Open, » a Tennis Australia spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
Dec. 22, 2021: Djokovic tests negative
According to court documents, Djokovic tests negative for COVID-19 in Serbia.
Dec. 18, 2021: Djokovic does interview and photo shoot for L’Equipe
Knowing he tested positive, Djokovic does an interview and photo shoot with the French newspaper L’Equipe. He acknowledges weeks later: « On reflection, this was an error of judgment. »
Dec. 17, 2021: Djokovic attends Belgrade event
The nine-time Australian Open champion attends an event in Belgrade, Serbia, honoring youth tennis players. Parents post photos on social media showing Djokovic and the young players without masks. Djokovic later says he was asymptomatic, had taken an antigen test before the event that showed he was negative, and only received a positive PCR result after the event.
Dec. 16, 2021: Djokovic tests positive
Djokovic tests positive for COVID-19 in Serbia, although that is not public knowledge until it is revealed by court documents in January. He later says he did not know the result until Dec. 17.
Dec. 14, 2021: Djokovic attends a basketball game
The tennis star takes in a professional basketball game in Belgrade, Serbia. He is photographed hugging several players from both teams, including some who later tested positive for COVID-19.
June 2020: The Adria Tour is called off, Djokovic contracts COVID-19
Djokovic announces that he and his wife, Jelena, have tested positive for COVID-19 after he played in a series of exhibition matches he organized in Serbia and Croatia with no social distancing or masking required amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Adria Tour is canceled as Djokovic is the fourth player to test positive for the illness after participating in the matches held in Belgrade and Zadar, Croatia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.