DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Novak Djokovic arrived early Monday in Dubai after his deportation from Australia over its required COVID-19 vaccination ended the No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player’s hopes of defending his Australian Open title.
The Emirates plane carrying Djokovic touched down after a 13 1/2-hour flight from Melbourne, where he had argued in court he should be allowed to stay in the country and compete in the tournament under a medical exemption due to a coronavirus infection last month.
Dubai International Airport was quiet early Monday morning as flights from the Australia and Asia began to arrive. Passengers wearing mandatory face masks collected their bags and walked out of the cavernous terminal. The first Muslim call to prayers before the sunrise echoed over the terminal.
It wasn’t immediately clear where Djokovic planned to travel next. The Dubai Duty Free tennis tournament, which Djokovic won in 2020, doesn’t start until Feb. 14.
Dubai, the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates, doesn’t require travelers to be vaccinated, though they must show a negative PCR test to board a flight.
Djokovic had won nine Australian Open titles, including three in a row, and a total of 20 Grand Slam singles trophies, tied with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis. Federer is not playing while recovering from injury, and Nadal is the only former Australian Open men’s champion in the tournament that began Monday.
Djokovic’s visa was initially canceled on Jan. 6 by a border official who decided he didn’t qualify for a medical exemption from Australia’s rules for unvaccinated visitors. He was exempted from the tournament’s vaccine rules because he had been infected with the virus within the previous six months.
He won an appeal to stay for the tournament, but Australia’s immigration minister later revoked his visa. Three Federal Court judges decided unanimously Sunday to affirm the immigration minister’s right to cancel Djokovic’s visa.
Vaccination amid the pandemic was a requirement for anyone at the Australian Open, whether players, their coaches or anyone at the tournament site. More than 95% of all Top 100 men and women in their tours’ respective rankings are vaccinated. At least two men — American Tennys Sandgren and Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert — skipped the first major tournament of the year due to the vaccine requirement.
Djokovic’s attempt to get the medical exemption for not being vaccinated sparked anger in Australia, where strict lockdowns in cities and curbs on international travel have been employed to try to control the spread of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.