Sports

Djokovic in Australian Open draw but may still be kicked out

  • The number 1 ranked in the world of tennis is seeking to achieve a record 21st title in the championship
  • The best seed trains at Rod Laver Arena
  • Djokovic admits error in entry and excursion form when COVID positive
  • Australia is considering canceling his visa again

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic was included in the Australian Open draw on Thursday, even though the government could still fire him in a row over a coronavirus vaccination.

The withdrawal was delayed by an hour without explanation, even as Immigration Minister Alex Hawke was considering whether discretion should be exercised to cancel Djokovic’s visa over concern about his medical exemption from Australia’s strict vaccine rules.

If he’s still here, the unvaccinated defending champion will face fellow Serbian Miomir Kekmanovic in his opening match, likely on Monday or Tuesday.

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This saga intensified the global debate over vaccine-choice rights and became a difficult issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he fought for re-election. Read more

(Watch the highlights from the Australian tennis saga read more)

Australia is due to hold elections by May, and while the Morrison government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security, it has not escaped criticism over the failed handling of Djokovic’s visa.

The Age newspaper in Melbourne said Djokovic would immediately appeal to the court any attempt to deport him, a decision was expected on Friday, and that tournament organizers were preparing contingency plans for a new withdrawal in that case.

The newspaper quoted a source in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party as saying the government was “strongly leaning” towards visa abolition again.

Djokovic, who practiced again at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, sparked widespread outrage in Australia by heading to Melbourne with a medical exemption from requirements to vaccinate visitors against COVID-19.

Upon his arrival, the Australian Border Force determined his exemption was invalid and placed him in an immigration detention hotel with asylum seekers for several days.

On Monday, a court allowed him to stay on the grounds that officials were “unreasonable” during the seven-hour midnight interview process.

The government must now decide whether to allow Djokovic to stay and seek to win the men’s 21st major title.

Australia has experienced some of the longest lockdowns in the world, has a 90% vaccination rate among adults, and has seen a rapid omicron outbreak bringing in nearly a million cases in the past two weeks Read more

A false entry declaration did not help Djokovic’s case, as a box was ticked stating that he had not traveled abroad in the two weeks prior to his departure for Australia.

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic trains at Melbourne Park as questions remain over the legal battle over his visa to play at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 13, 2022. REUTERS/Lauren Elliott

In fact, he has traveled between Spain and Serbia.

Djokovic, 34, blamed his agent for the mistake and admitted that he also shouldn’t have given an interview and taking pictures for a French newspaper on December 18 while he contracted COVID-19.

“bot him”

“After hearing what Djokovic had to say about how he made mistakes on his level and those little slips, I think he’ll fire him,” Melbourne resident Tyler Agnew said of the minister’s pending decision.

“No one can stuff that bad stuff into little things like that, these are just very basic things. I think they should and they will.”

However, anti-vaccination opponents hailed him as a hero while Djokovic’s family and the Serbian government portrayed him as a victim of persecution.

Although the previous controversy was not strange, the uproar was engulfing Djokovic, former Australian tennis player Todd Woodbridge said after meeting him on Thursday.

“He’s still very aware that he may not reach the building blocks of the first round,” Woodbridge, now a commentator, said on Championship PBS. “It’s very visible…it’s taking a toll on him.”

An online poll by News Corp Media group shows that 83% support the government’s attempt to extradite Djokovic.

“I would just say, you know, just get the vaccines. That’s the key,” said Daniel Andrews, premier of Victoria state where Melbourne is the capital.

“That’s what I said to every Victorian, that’s what I did, that’s what my kids did, that’s what families did, 93% of our community did it, and I’m so proud of them for doing it, I’m so grateful.”

There may also be resentment in the dressing room, where all but three of the top 100 men are vaccinated.

“Sometimes you have to trump your personal beliefs with what is good for the greater good, for those around you, and for your peers,” tennis player Martina Navratilova told Australian TV, urging Djokovic to “get away” and go home.

“Get a vaccine or just don’t go play.”

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Additional reporting by Sonali Paul and Ian Ransom in Melbourne and John Mayer in Sydney; Written by Lincoln Fest and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Robert Percell and Angus McSwan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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