A former Wimbledon semi-finalist booted out of the country, a former Australian Open tournament boss declaring that he felt a sense of shame.
What has been carefully cultivated as the so-called ‘Happy Slam’ descended further into recrimination on Friday as the Novak Djokovic affair slid into an omni-shambles over the issue of vaccine exemptions.
The chaos was summed up when Nick Kyrgios — normally a vociferous critic of Djokovic, previously describing him as a ‘tool’ — stepped in to offer sympathy to the incarcerated world No 1.
The Novak Djokovic affair slid into an omni-shambles over the issue of vaccine exemptions
The chaos was summed up when Nick Kyrgios (L) offered sympathy to the world No 1 (R)
While affirming his support for vaccines, the Australian player said: ‘How we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad. Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.’
Djokovic spent another day in his detention hotel ahead of his court case on Monday and was joined there on Friday by 2017 Wimbledon doubles semi-finalist Renata Voracova. The 38-year-old Czech player arrived in the country last month and has already played an Australian Open warm-up event, but was told to leave with immediate effect.
Sportsmail understands all 26 tennis personnel who originally applied for a vaccine exemption were contacted on Thursday evening and told their cases were being looked at.
A third individual, a non-playing tournament official from overseas, has already left the country on a voluntarily basis.
Djokovic spent another day in his detention hotel ahead of his court case on Monday
Djokovic is expected to spend the weekend in contact with his Melbourne lawyers
Voracova would not be following Djokovic in issuing a legal challenge and was on Friday seeking the quickest possible exit route.
British player Tara Moore, who is in Victoria for a lower-tier tournament, will surely have spoken for others in her assessment of the Czech’s situation: ‘Revoking someone’s visa who’s already entered the country and played a match is crazy, the rules needed to be clearer from the beginning. This is a huge bungle.’
There is growing anger at the role of Tennis Australia, who appear not to have clearly communicated with players the hurdles that the non-vaccinated would face.
An Australian Open information sheet — sent to all competitors — was leaked on Friday and states players ‘may be eligible for a temporary medical exemption’ if they have a ‘recent PCR- confirmed Covid infection, where vaccination can be deferred until six months after the infection’.
According to the Herald Sun newspaper, central government warned the tennis authorities in November that having suffered from Covid in the previous six months could not be considered grounds for entry to the country.
He was joined at the hotel by 2017 Wimbledon doubles semi-finalist Renata Voracova
British player Tara Moore has spoken for others in her assessment of the Czech’s situation
While not yet confirmed, this is believed to be the basis on which Djokovic thought he could freely enter and play unvaccinated.
It is also the means by which Voracova came in.
Former Australian Open supremo Paul McNamee, once a Wimbledon doubles champion, was sufficiently enraged that he travelled up to the detention hotel in northern Melbourne to offer his solidarity with those protesting Djokovic’s treatment.
‘As an Aussie and former tournament director of the Australian Open, I feel shame,’ he tweeted.
Djokovic issued a brief statement of thanks to his supporters on Friday. ‘Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated,’ Djokovic’s team wrote on social media.
Apart from a public relations disaster for the tournament, the fiasco has shone light on the plight of some refugees in Australia.
Much of the blame will land at the door of Tennis Australia’s chief executive Craig Tiley
For instance, one of Djokovic’s new neighbours at the hotel is Mehdi Ali, an Iranian who has spent nine years in different government facilities since fleeing his homeland.
If some wider good is coming out of the situation, it does not extend to the more parochial confines of Tennis Australia, who are in the firing line.
Much of the blame will land at the door of their all-powerful chief executive and Open tournament director Craig Tiley.
The whole chaotic business could have been avoided if he had simply decreed that — for this year alone, perhaps — nobody could play unless they were vaccinated.
Known for his courtship of the top players — he often greets them personally at the airport —he was so desperate to ensure Djokovic’s participation that he introduced the complex vaccination leeway, which has led to the current meltdown.
World No 1 Djokovic issued a brief statement of thanks to his supporters on Friday
Even if those unvaccinated had been barred from attending, it would still have meant a 95 per cent participation rate among men’s singles players and nearly 90 per cent among the women.
Originally from South Africa, Tiley is broadly well-liked within the game and considered to be one of its more dynamic and enlightened administrators.
He has massively expanded the Melbourne tournament.
On this occasion, however, his vaulting ambition looks to have outstripped sound judgment and organisational capability.
Tennis Australia have issued a statement emphasising they consistently advised participants to be vaccinated, adding: ‘We reject completely that the playing group was knowingly misled.’
Djokovic, in isolation for what was the Orthodox Church’s Christmas on Friday, is expected to spend the weekend in contact with his Melbourne lawyers ahead of Monday’s hearing, where arguments will be heard.
The Serb’s legal team will be seeking an injunction permitting him to stay in Australia and allowing him to compete at the tournament.
It is likely that any granted postponement would go beyond the end of the month.
Justin Quill, a specialist in media law, told Reuters: ‘You have to demonstrate there is an arguable case with reasonable grounds.
‘If Djokovic gets over that first hurdle, the next thing is Balance of Convenience.
‘This is where you balance the scales in regards to the imposition on each party and who will be hindered more if their rights are wrongly denied.’
As it turns out, Djokovic’s first opponent of 2022 in any kind of court will be Australia’s Home Affairs Department.
Apart from a public relations disaster for the tournament, the fiasco has shone light on the plight of some refugees in Australia