The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam Tennis Tournament of the year, kicked off on Jan. 17 in Melbourne, Australia. However, the tournament has been grabbing headlines for some off-the-court action.
The tournament was making headlines before it began with the controversy surrounding world number one Novak Djokovic’s entrance into Australia. The defending champion arrived in Australia unvaccinated, claiming a medical exemption to get him past Australia’s strict border control and COVID-19 restrictions. He then saw his visa canceled until the decision was overturned and he was initially allowed to compete until the Australian immigration minister, Alex Hawke, finally canceled his visa and had him deported back to Serbia. Djokovic’s vaccine status, back-and-forth surrounding his visa and Australia’s response have sparked conversation worldwide, especially with regards to Djokovic’s sponsorships, which reportedly bring him around $30 million a year.
Djokovic has chosen not to comment on the situation until the end of the tournament.
Furthermore, before the event, controversy has been sparked over protests surrounding Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. The former world number one disappeared after she took to social media, accusing a member of the Chinese Communist Party of pressuring her into sex, and her whereabouts so far remain unclear. A fan at Melbourne Park was asked to remove a t-shirt and a banner saying “Where is Peng Shuai?” However, 48 hours later, following a public outcry, Tennis Australia chose to reverse the decision banning protests, as long as they are “peaceful,” according to tournament director Craig Tiley. Since then, over AUD$15,000 has been raised to fund the printing and distribution of shirts as part of the protest, while the UN pushes to find Peng.
The tournament has gone on in the scorching Australian summer weather, with the quarter-finals taking place from Jan 24. to Jan 26. American Danielle Collins is still alive in the women’s singles, while Madison Keys has advanced to the semi-finals. Rajeev Ram competes in the men’s doubles quarter-finals, and Caroline Dolehide competes in the women’s doubles quarter-finals.