Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has 4.4 million reasons to compete in the Australian Open – if he isn’t deported after his visa was sensationally denied by authorities on Thursday.
The world number one is the pre-tournament favourite, but whether he graces centre court at Melbourne Park come January 17 remains up in the air.
He is currently holed up in a bland hotel in Melbourne’s inner-city with a handful of refugees.
Djokovic could be desperate to compete after the tournament organisers increased the prize money for the Australian Open men’s winner to a whopping $4.4 million.
It is an increase from $2.75 million last year, and in further incentive, if Djokovic manages to play in Melbourne and hoists the trophy on January 30, he will be the first player in men’s tennis history to win 21 career grand slams.
Tennis superstar Novak Djokovic has 4.4 million reasons to compete in the Australian Open – if he isn’t deported after his visa was sensationally denied by authorities on Thursday
Djokovic, 34, flew into Melbourne on Wednesday night, but now faces the prospect of being on a flight to Serbia on Thursday after his initial exemption which was granted by an independent panel on medical grounds was thrown out by authorities
In extraordinary scenes, Djokovic was detained at Melbourne Airport overnight in a guarded room and grilled by border officials until 5am after landing in Australia six hours earlier.
His team is understood to have applied for a type of visa that does not allow medical exemptions for the unvaccinated.
There are also believed to be issues with the controversial exemption itself, with questions about whether the tennis star has adequate proof to support it.
Djokovic is believed to have been issued an exemption on the grounds that he was infected with coronavirus in the past six months.
This may satisfy his entry into the tournament and Victoria, but the federal government controls the international border and his exemption appears to not hold up under federal rules.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Thursday morning said the federal government was not involved in the decision to approve Djokovic’s medical exemption.
The prominent Covid vaccine sceptic now faces a difficult legal fight to stay in the country and keep his Australian Open title fight alive.
Djokovic’s lawyers are gearing up to fight the visa cancellation in court, though it is not clear if the star athlete will stay in Australia during the case.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Djokovic’s visa had been cancelled on Thursday morning.
‘Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled,’ Mr Morrison wrote on Twitter.
‘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.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Djokovic’s visa had been cancelled on Thursday morning, saying ‘rules are rules’
Mr Hunt also confirmed the visa cancellation, and Border Force issued a statement to that effect.
‘The Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our laws and entry requirements,’ the force said.
‘The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.
‘Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia.
‘The ABF can confirm Mr Djokovic had access to his phone.’
Earlier on Thursday, his father Srdan confirmed to a Serbian radio station that the star was ‘isolated in a room’ at the airport with his support staff banned from entering and without access to a mobile phone, even claiming he was under ‘police guard’.
‘Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter,’ he told the B92 internet portal. ‘In front of the room are two policemen.’
Mr Djokovic Snr warned protesters would gather on the Serbian streets if border officials didn’t make a decision about his son gaining entry into Australia.
Novak’s father Srdjan told a Serbian radio station that the star was ‘isolated in a room’ at the airport and warned protesters would ‘gather on the streets’
Djokovic’s coach Goran Ivanisevic (pictured with physiotherapist Ulises Badio) has taken to social media to give fans a small insight into the team’s predicament
‘I have no idea what’s going on, they’re holding my son captive for five hours,’ he said. ‘This is not a fight for the libertarian world, this is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world.
‘If they don’t let him go, we will gather on the street, this is a fight for everybody.’
Djokovic’s declaration to the world that he was on his way to Australia this week sparked an outpouring of anger on a day the nation recorded a record 64,770 new Covid cases.
Border Force officials learned while Djokovic was in the air that he would be trying to enter the country on a visa that doesn’t permit medical exemptions for being unvaccinated, sources said.
As a result, the federal government contacted Victorian officials late on Wednesday night to ask it to formally help facilitate his entry into the country – but this was rejected.
Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford confirmed the state government would not support the visa application.
Novak Djokovic (pictured, with wife Jelena) is likely to be sent home from Australia after his visa was cancelled on Thursday
‘The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia,’ Ms Pulford tweeted at 11.14pm on Wednesday.
‘We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
‘We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions a matter for doctors.’
Aussie tennis great Rod Laver called on Djokovic to ‘own up’ to the reason for his exemption or face hostility from spectators.
‘If he’s got a reason for (the exemption) then… we should know it,’ the 11-time grand slam winner told News Corp.
‘Yes, you’re a great player and you’ve performed and won so many tournaments, so, it can’t be physical. So what is the problem?’
Everyone entering Australia – even its own citizens – must be fully-vaccinated against Covid or endure two weeks in hotel quarantine.
‘My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,’ Mr Morrison said on Wednesday afternoon.
‘Now Novak Djokovic, when he arrives in Australia, he has to if he’s not vaccinated, must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully-vaccinated travellers.
‘So we await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that.
‘If that evidence is insufficient, then he will be treated no different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home.
‘There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.’
Novak Djokovic (pictured left) is likely to be deported from Australia on Thursday night due to visa dramas
Mr Morrison went onto accuse Djokovic of ‘attempting to run the border’ as the chances of the tennis star staying in Australia appear remote.
Djokovic previously contracted Covid in June 2020 shortly after he hosted a number of players in an exhibition tournament in south-east Europe.
Former Australian tennis star Sam Groth, who is recovering from Covid-19, described Djokovic’s ‘brazen’ exemption as a decision that ‘spits in the face of every Victorian and Australian’ in a strongly-worded column for News Corp.
‘Just look at the s**t storm he’s created. It’s disrespectful to everyone that has endured the hell of the last two years.
‘He was here last year lifting the trophy and paying tribute to what Victorians in particular had endured. He played in empty stadiums during the snap lockdown. His announcement on Tuesday was tone deaf. He should know better,’ he wrote.
Groth also accused Djokovic of hiding behind an exemption without explanation.
‘I still think Djokovic is one of the greatest ever but with greatness comes expectation and he fails every time. He is failing his peers and laughing in the face of Victorians,’ he wrote.
A Serbian fan rushed to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport on Wednesday night with flag in hand to send support to the superstar player
‘Maybe he will come and do a press conference and tell us what we want to know, but based on his track record, I’m not holding my breath.’
Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion, has refused to reveal his vaccination status, declaring it a private matter – and has previously voiced his displeasure against ‘forced’ jabs.
‘I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,’ he told fans in a live Facebook chat last April.
All players and spectators at the Australian Open need to be vaccinated or secure an exemption like Djokovic, which is assessed by an independent panel of experts.
While many players weren’t willing to weigh in on the saga, there were some rivals who pledged support for the besieged Djokovic.
‘I know we’re big on vaccination in Australia (but) I think it should be the choice of the person whether they want to get the vaccination,’ Australian tennis star Jordan Thompson said.
‘I can see why people are upset but it’s a difficult one. Honestly, I don’t really give a s**t.
‘I just think people should have their say on if they want to get vaccinated or not. I just worry about myself… It’s up to him whether he gets it or not.’
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