The world tennis No.1, who dreams of winning his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne, was seen warming up in a gym before entering the players’ area and heading out towards center court, six days before the start of the competition in which he is the No. 1 seed.
“I came here to play one of the most important tournaments in front of incredible spectators,” the 34-year-old Serbian ace, unvaccinated against Covid-19, said on Instagram late Monday, under a photo of him and his team standing on the same center court.
But, a week before the start of the event (January 17-30), Christopher Tran, a government lawyer, warned that Canberra could still decide to expel the player, which would have the consequence of denying him any entry on the territory for three years.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said he “was considering canceling Mr Djokovic’s visa” using his ministerial powers, but declined to say more on legal grounds.
A new element could weaken the position of the world No.1: contrary to what he said in a travel document, he traveled between Serbia and Spain at the end of December, as shown in various publications in the international press and on social networks.
Setback for Australia
The decision to release the Serbian is a setback for Australia, which has imposed strict border restrictions to fight the pandemic for two years.
Djokovic, nine-time Australian Open champion, landed in the country on January 5, with a medical exemption from vaccination justified by a positive Covid-19 test on December 16, 2021.
“I am not vaccinated,” the player told the border official, according to a transcript released by the court. He said he was baffled that his medical exemption, approved by two medical committees in Australia, was not accepted.
After an overnight interrogation at Melbourne airport, border control officers ruled the exemption was not valid, canceled his visa and transferred him to a detention center pending deportation.
The Australian government has argued that a recent infection only counts as an exemption for residents and not for foreigners trying to enter the country.
According to the court’s findings, the player did not have time to “consult other people and present arguments” before his visa was invalidated.
On Tuesday, the Serbian press continued to show its support for the athlete, like the independent daily DANAS for whom “the Australian drama will only strengthen (him)”. “They tried by all means to destabilize Novak, estimated in his columns his former coach Nikola Pilic. They forgot or did not know that he has been under pressure for fifteen years (and) that he manages it successfully.”
As Djokovic trained at Melbourne Park, fans grew impatient to see him play. “I think he is going to receive a lot of insults from the fans in general, but I hope that a few will support him,” said Ofek Dvir Ovadia, 22.
On Monday, his family welcomed the decision to release him. “For me, this is the biggest victory of his career,” commented his mother Dijana.
The ATP, which runs the men’s tennis circuit, said the case had been “damaging on all fronts, including Novak’s well-being and his preparation for the Australian Open.”
Former champion Martina Navratilova launched on social networks: “Let him play!”.
Czech tennis player Renata Voracova, who had to leave Australia after being placed in the same detention center as Novak Djokovic, announced on Tuesday that she would seek financial compensation from the Australian Federation (TA).
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Djokovic trains at Australian Open, participation still pending