The Australian Open tennis tournament which took place in Melbourne has recently ended earlier this year on the 30th of January 2022. It is one of the four biggest tournaments in the sport of tennis known as a "grand slam" alongside the US Open, French Open and Wimbledon. Every grand slam is highly prestigious, the most prestigious in this sport. Because of its prestige, it tends to beat the prestige of tennis at the Olympics. The Australian Open is unique because it is the earliest grand slam tournament each year, giving it the reputation as the “opening grand slam” because it is held in January when summer is at its peak in Australia.
This year’s Australian Open has many takeaways, including new records, a 44-year-old wait for an Australian champion (Ashleigh Barty who won against Danielle Collins), the triumph of the veteran i.e. Rafael Nadal, and of course the judicial-political intrigue regarding tennis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is no surprise that since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected several aspects of life worldwide, including international sports. Like many sporting events, tennis experienced many cancelled competitions and has since adjusted to the new normal's strict mandates demanding athletes to be cautious not to spread potential infections. Today, even the prestigious grand slams and the countries they take place in have very high precautions to run with as less COVID-19 risk as possible. Even Melbourne, where the Australian Open takes place is the city that has experienced the most days of lockdown in the world, more than 260 days.
This is the background behind the largest tennis controversy in recent time, Serbian top tennis player Novak Djokovic’s visa revocation before the Australian Open preventing him from competing this year. On January 4th 2022, the 2021 Australian Open champion Djokovic landed in Melbourne without being fully-vaccinated, claiming to have been granted a medical exemption on behalf of Tennis Australia. Despite this the tennis pro was halted by the Australian Border Force and was brought into quarantine. Djokovic then attempted to appeal for his visa to be reinstated. This of course caused much controversy among the Australian Government and populace.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave a statement, “We await his (Novak Djokovic’s) presentation (regarding his medical exemption), and what evidence he provides to support that. If that evidence is insufficient then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he will be on the next plane home.”
The crux of this tennis-related controversy was that unlawful medical exemption granted to Djokovic, which was enacted by Tennis Australia with a panel of independent doctors. They had specific criteria for allowing certain athletes to enter Australia without being fully-vaccinated. The most realistic one in Djokovic’s case was being infected by COVID-19 before.
Djokovic’s views on vaccination has been demonstrated in the past. Following sports cancellations in 2020, the tennis pro held tennis events in Serbia and Croatia leading to him, his wife and others to be infected with COVID-19. “My issue here with vaccines is if someone is forcing me to put something in my body that I don't want. For me that is unacceptable”, he said in August 2020.
In the following days after Djokovic’s quarantine, the defending Australian Open champion’s case of appeal for his visa would be passed by a federal circuit judge, demanding the athlete to be released. However, this decision was then cancelled directly by the Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.
Alex Hawke stated, “Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so. The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Novak Djokovic, the defending Australian Open champion to-be, was deported to Serbia on January 14th to the dismay and outrage of Serbian officials as well as Serbian nationals in Serbia and even Australia. Controversies in international sports like this can often grow into an international political issue.
Nevertheless, the Australian Open 2022 commenced and by the end of January ended with spectacular and historical victories.
On the 29th of January in Melbourne Australian women’s singles tennis athlete Ashleigh Barty won over Danielle Collins, becoming the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open in over 44 years. Ashleigh now follows in the footsteps of Christine O’Neil, the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open back in 1978 who witnessed Barty’s victory from the audience.
Ashleigh herself cheered with pride and joy along with supporters throughout Rod Laver Arena and Australia when she secured the championship with a deadly forehand on her first match point. She is among the first athletes with an indigenous Australian background to win this tournament and she was awarded by fellow indigenous Australian tennis-player and champion Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
Ashleigh Barty now has 3 grand slams under her belt and in her victory speech she displayed herself as a calm, mature and humble athlete. Rather than parading her victory, she showed gratitude to the tournament organisers, the ball-kids and logistics teams, her own team and family as well as her fans. Ashleigh Barty makes for a great role model to the youth of Australia and the world.
The Australian Open concluded on the 30th of January with the Men’s Singles Finals and victory was handed to Spanish tennis pro Rafael Nadal, one of the ‘big three’ along with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. The 2022 champion Nadal now has won 21 grand slams, a new record distinguishing himself from the other big three. The ‘old guard’ of tennis players are still formidable competition for the new generation and it will take all their strength to end their reign of tennis domination.
International sports like grand slams are not just entertainment, but may also give insights beyond sports like in international politics.