Nadal, Osaka Through After Djokovic Saga At Australian Open

File photo: Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022. MARTIN KEEP / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal opened his Australian Open campaign in storming style Monday as the first Grand Slam of the year finally began after a chaotic build-up dominated by the visa saga engulfing world number one Novak Djokovic.

Defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka breezed into the second round but teenager Coco Gauff was an early big name casualty, the American 17-year-old dumped out in straight sets by China’s Wang Qiang, who is ranked outside the top 100.

The only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Djokovic’s sensational deportation, Nadal started his quest to become the first male to win 21 Grand Slams by sweeping aside the 66th-ranked Marcos Giron 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

There was relief from Nadal that they were at last playing tennis — he said he had grown “quite tired” of talking about his great Serbian rival, for whom he said he still has respect.

“The ideal situation in the world of sport is that the best players are on court, no?” said Nadal, who next plays Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round.

“Honestly I wish him all the best. I think the situation has been a mess. He’s not the only one that did probably the things bad.”

– Djokovic in Dubai –

Unvaccinated Serbian Djokovic landed in Dubai early on Monday after his humiliating deportation from Australia, his dreams of a record-extending 10th Australian Open title over for this year.

But it was business as usual for Japan’s Osaka, who registered her 23rd win in her last 24 matches in the city of Melbourne, with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Colombia’s Camila Osorio.

Seeded 13 after a disrupted 2021 season in which she said she had suffered “long bouts of depression”, Osaka raced to a 5-0 lead before cruising through in 68 minutes.

“I would say I feel more comfortable in my skin, if that makes sense,” said the 24-year-old, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. She will play American Madison Brengle in the second round.

“I just want to have fun, first of all. I can’t expect myself to win every match, but I do expect myself to have fun and challenge myself.”

Fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, the reigning French Open champion, had little problem in blowing away Germany’s Andrea Petkovic 6-2, 6-0 in 67 minutes.

The highest-ranked player to lose in the first round so far was Britain’s 12th seed Cameron Norrie, easily beaten by American Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, 6-3, 6-0, 6-4.

– Jabeur withdraws –

Tunisian ninth seed Ons Jabeur did not even make it onto court.

She withdrew because of injury before her match against Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz and was replaced by lucky loser Irina Bara of Romania.

Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini, who reached his first Slam final at Wimbledon last year before losing to Djokovic, dropped a set before powering past American Brandon Nakashima 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.

There were also four-set wins for Canadian 14th seed Denis Shapovalov and Polish 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz.

Miomir Kecmanovic, who was originally drawn to meet Djokovic, had a much easier time against “lucky loser” Salvatore Caruso, winning 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 in 1hr 56min.

Germany’s Tatjana Maria had the honour of striking the first serve in the tournament on the showpiece Rod Laver Arena before falling to Greece’s Maria Sakkari, the fifth seed, 6-4, 7-6 (7/2).

“We all know how hard first rounds can be and that wasn’t easy,” said the athletic Sakkari.

Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic said she was still feeling the effects of Covid-19 a month after falling ill, as she moved into round two by overcoming Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 6-3.

“I mean, my pulse was getting very up in the practices,” she said.

The night session on Rod Laver Arena is headlined by world number one Ashleigh Barty, who is chasing her first title in her home Grand Slam. The 25-year-old faces Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko.

Later third seed and Olympic champion Alexander Zverev plays fellow German Daniel Altmaier.

Djokovic Lands In Dubai After Australia Deportation

File photo: Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022. MARTIN KEEP / AFP

 

Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic landed in Dubai on Monday after his sensational deportation from Australia over his coronavirus vaccination status shattered his dream of scoring a record 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne.

As the Australian Open got under way, the men’s defending champion stepped off an Emirates plane carrying two bags and wearing a mask — his final destination unknown.

The dramatic deportation followed a protracted and high-stakes legal battle between the unvaccinated Djokovic and the Australian authorities that polarised opinion and tarnished reputations on both sides.

Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” after a Federal Court unanimously upheld the cancellation of his visa on public order grounds.

READ ALSO: Djokovic’s Family ‘Disappointed’ Over Deportation From Australia

He now faces a possible three-year ban from Australia, where he was won nine of his 20 Grand Slam titles — a tally that equals the all-time record alongside Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is wrestling with record coronavirus numbers, said “there was a very clear message sent”.

But he hinted that Djokovic could be allowed to return within three years “in the right circumstances”.

“It (the ban) does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for them to return in the right circumstances and that would be considered at the time,” he said in a radio interview.

Legal Drama 

The humbled Djokovic boarded a flight from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport for Dubai late Sunday, accompanied by a retinue of aides and officials.

Emirates flight EK409 took off at 10:51 pm local time (1151 GMT), according to an AFP reporter on board, and landed before dawn in Dubai.

Twice in the last 11 days Australia’s government had ripped up Djokovic’s visa and placed him in immigration detention  — saying his presence could fuel anti-vaccine sentiment amid a wave of Omicron cases.

Twice the Serbian star fought the decision in court, winning one round but losing Sunday’s decider in Australia’s Federal Court, James Allsop, ending a week of legal drama.

“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” Djokovic said, acknowledging the game was up.

The controversy looks set to rumble on, with Djokovic’s image seriously damaged and Australia feeding a growing reputation for hostility towards visitors.

But Morrison, who faces a tough reelection battle this year, is unlikely to suffer much of a public backlash over the saga, even among those with misgivings about his hardline immigration policies.

Many Australians — who have suffered prolonged lockdowns and border restrictions that effectively kept families and loved ones apart — believe Djokovic gamed the system to dodge vaccine entry requirements, and are happy to see him go.

“I think they did the right thing asking him to leave. If he was still here it would be all Djokovic. But the tournament is about so much more than him,” one tennis fan, Simon Overton, told AFP as the Australian Open got under way in Melbourne Park.

But others, including Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, condemned the Australian decision to deport Djokovic.

“They think that they have by this, this mistreatment of 10 days, humiliated Djokovic, but they have humiliated themselves,” Vucic told a state media outlet.

‘With or Without Him’ 

 

During the roller coaster days leading up to the Australian Open — and Djokovic’s deportation — it emerged the tennis ace contracted Covid-19 in mid-December and, according to his own account, failed to isolate despite knowing he was positive.

Public records show he attended a stamp unveiling and a youth tennis event, and granted a media interview around the time he got tested and his latest infection was confirmed.

Djokovic declined to give evidence in the case to dispel the notion that he is opposed to vaccines.

“He has now become an icon for the anti-vaccination groups,” government lawyer Stephen Lloyd said. “Rightly or wrongly he is perceived to endorse an anti-vaccination view and his presence here is seen to contribute to that.”

“He could set the record straight if it needed correcting. He has not — that has important consequences.”

Spanish great Nadal took a swipe at his rival on Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.

“The Australian Open is much more important than any player,” Nadal told reporters at Melbourne Park.

However, Djokovic’s compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic, who was set to face the nine-time champion in the first round on Monday, called the incident a “bitter pill to swallow”.

“Our little Serbian team here in Melbourne is upset and disappointed,” Kecmanovic wrote on Instagram.

AFP

Djokovic’s Family ‘Disappointed’ Over Deportation From Australia

Novak Djokovic was denied aces to participate in the Australian Open despite ab exemption from two panels of medical experts
In this file photo taken on October 22, 2020, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic attends an open air press conference in Belgrade. – Djokovic has pulled out of the ATP Cup in Sydney, organisers said on December 29, 2021, amid speculation about his vaccination status and whether he will defend his Australian Open title. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

 

The family of Novak Djokovic said they were “disappointed” by an Australian court’s decision to deport the top ranked tennis star Sunday, in a statement published by Serbian media outlets.

“We are very disappointed by a federal court ruling and the fact that Novak has to leave Australia,” the family said in the statement.

“These are difficult moments, notably for Novak, but what we all have to do — namely us, his family — is to give him support more than ever,” the family added.

The statement was published just hours after Djokovic lost his last-gasp bid to avoid deportation from Australia, ending a sensational legal battle over his coronavirus vaccination status and dashing his dream of an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam singles crown.

Djokovic’s family have been amongst his most vocal supporters throughout the ordeal in Australia.

Back home in Serbia, his father Srdjan rallied hundreds of fans of the tennis world number one and at one point said Djokovic had been “crucified” much like Jesus.

“We believe he will come out of this situation stronger and that the time will show what he has been proving beyond any doubt so far, that he is a great champion and a man,” the family said Sunday.

Earlier in Australia, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the federal court’s ruling that upheld the government’s right to rip up his visa over fears he is stoking anti-vaccine sentiment.

Djokovic: Australia ‘Humiliated Themselves’ With Court Ruling, Says Serbian President

File photo: Novak Djokovic of Serbia attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2022. MARTIN KEEP / AFP

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic lashed out at Australian authorities Sunday morning, hours after a federal court paved the way for the deportation of Novak Djokovic on the eve of the Australian Open over his vaccine status. 

“They think that they have by this, this mistreatment of ten days humiliated Djokovic, but they have humiliated themselves. Djokovic can return to his country with his head held high,” Vucic told a state media outlet.

Vucic has remained steadfast in his support for Djokovic throughout the drama, calling the earlier detention of the unvaccinated tennis star a “political witch hunt”.

“I spoke earlier to Novak Djokovic after the decision and I encouraged him. We look forward to seeing him return to his country, where he is always welcome,” the president added.

READ ALSO[Djokovic] Australian Open More Important Than Any Player, Says Nadal

Earlier in Australia, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the federal court’s ruling that upheld the government’s right to rip up his visa over fears he is stoking anti-vaccine sentiment and dashed his dream of a record 21st Grand Slam

In Serbia, the ruling stoked outrage among Djokovic’s fans.

“It’s a farce … All this has nothing to do with the sport,” Nebojsa Viskovic, a journalist covering notably tennis, told AFP.

“All the criticism about whether he was vaccinated or not doesn’t hold water.”

Many other Serbs echoed the view.

“The decision is not a surprise but is still shameful,” said Jadranka Misic, a 29-year-old sociologist from Belgrade.

For tennis fan Milovan Jankovic, Australia and the tournament itself had secured little more than a Pyrrhic victory.

“It’s going to be ridiculous to hold the tournament without the defending champion and nine-time winner.

“If I were Djokovic I would never set foot in Australia again,” the 57-year-old salesman added.

An “extremely disappointed” Djokovic said he would comply with the unanimous ruling.

AFP

Australia Cancels Djokovic’s Visa Again

Novak Djokovic was denied aces to participate in the Australian Open despite ab exemption from two panels of medical experts
File photo of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic  (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

 

Australia cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa for a second time Friday in a sensational new attempt to deport the unvaccinated tennis superstar.

The country’s conservative government defeated once in the courts, invoked extraordinary executive powers to again rip up the 34-year-old Serbian’s visa on public interest grounds.

The move came just three days before the Australian Open starts, putting Djokovic’s dream of a record 21st Grand Slam in serious doubt.

Djokovic, an avowed Covid-19 vaccine sceptic, is the tournament’s top seed and had been practising on the Melbourne Park courts just hours before Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s bombshell decision was announced.

The government is “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Hawke said in a statement.

He cited “health and good order grounds” for the decision and said “it was in the public interest to do so”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison backed the decision: “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.”

The visa cancellation effectively means the world’s number one tennis player would be barred from obtaining a new Australian visa for three years, except under exceptional circumstances.

But at an emergency court hearing late Friday, the tennis ace challenged the decision.

Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood requested an injunction against his removal and appealed for him to be allowed to remain out of immigration detention as the case proceeds.

“We are very concerned about time,” Wood said, arguing that the government’s decision was marked by “irrationality.”

– ‘All fools’ –
In Belgrade, Djokovic’s compatriots reacted with shock to the news.

“To say that a high-level sportsman like Novak is a danger to the health of Australians is just absurd, it’s a scandal,” said 28-year-old local government employee Petar Stojanovic.

The megastar flew into Melbourne airport on January 5 claiming a vaccine exemption because of a positive PCR test result on December 16.

Border agents rejected his exemption, revoked his visa and placed him in a notorious Melbourne detention centre where he spent four nights.

The Australian government insists a recent infection does not qualify as a vaccine exemption for foreign nationals trying to enter the country.

Djokovic’s top-flight legal team overturned the visa decision in the federal circuit court on Monday because border officials at the airport had failed to give him the agreed time to respond.

Djokovic’s vaccine waiver provoked outrage among many Australians who have endured nearly two years of some of the toughest coronavirus restrictions in the world.

Some tennis players say Djokovic should now be allowed to play, but not all have been supportive.

World number four Stefanos Tsitsipas criticised his behaviour.

“For sure he has been playing by his own rules,” Tsitsipas said in an interview with Indian broadcaster WION.

Nearly everyone in the Australian Open had been vaccinated, Tsitsipas said. But others “chose to follow their own way which kind of makes the majority look like they’re all fools”.

– ‘Error of judgement’ –
On Wednesday, Djokovic described reports about post-infection outings without a mask in Serbia as “misinformation”.

On the day of his claimed positive test in Serbia, he attended a ceremony to honour him with stamps bearing his image. The following day he attended a youth tennis event. He appeared at both apparently without a mask.

Djokovic said in an Instagram post that he only received the PCR test result after going to the children’s tennis event on December 17.

But he admitted that he also went ahead with an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe on December 18.

“On reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” Djokovic said.

The journalist who carried out the L’Equipe interview, Franck Ramella, said he had been unaware at the time of the interview that Djokovic was Covid-positive.

The tennis star also admitted to a mistake on his Australian travel declaration, in which a box was ticked indicating that he had not, or would not, travel in the 14 days before flying to Melbourne.

In fact, social media posts and reports show he flew from Serbia to Spain during that period.

Djokovic blamed his support team for this. “My agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box,” he said.

As Covid-related hospitalisations rise in Melbourne, the Victorian state government said Thursday it would cap capacity at the Australian Open at 50 percent.

Djokovic Makes Other Players ‘Look Like Fools’ – Tsitsipas

Novak Djokovic was denied aces to participate in the Australian Open despite ab exemption from two panels of medical experts
In this file photo taken on October 22, 2020, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic attends an open-air press conference in Belgrade. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

 

Novak Djokovic had put the Australian Open at risk and made other tennis players “look like fools” after travelling to Australia unvaccinated, world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas said Thursday.

The Serbian world number one, top seed and defending champion is looking to secure a 10th Australian Open title at Melbourne Park — it gets underway next Monday — and an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam crown.

But the vaccine-sceptic’s fate remains uncertain with Australia’s government pondering whether to revoke his visa again and throw him out of the country for breaking Covid protocols.

READ ALSO: Djokovic In Australian Open Draw As Deportation Threat Loom

“For sure he has been playing by his own rules,” Tsitsipas said in an interview with Indian broadcaster WION.

“It takes a lot of daring to do and (is) putting a Grand Slam at risk… I don’t think many players would do that.”

Tsitsipas, who lost to Djokovic in last year’s French Open final, said nearly everyone at the Melbourne tournament had been vaccinated.

Others, he said, “chose to follow their own way which kind of makes the majority look like they’re all fools.”

Djokovic flew into Melbourne airport on January 5 carrying a vaccine exemption because of a claimed positive PCR test result on December 16.

Border agents rejected his exemption, saying a recent infection was an insufficient justification, tore up his visa and placed him in a detention centre.

But Djokovic’s high-powered legal team overturned the visa decision in court on Monday on a procedural matter related to his airport interview.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday no decision had been made on whether to revoke Djokovic’s visa a second time.

Djokovic was nonetheless included in the first round draw of the Australian Open the same day.

Even if he is allowed to stay, there are questions over his preparations and fitness for the gruelling two-week tournament after he was forced to spend four nights in the detention facility.

AFP

Djokovic In Australian Open Draw As Deportation Threat Loom

Novak Djokovic of Serbia takes part in a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 13, 2022.
Mike FREY / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic drew a first-round clash against a fellow Serb in the Australian Open on Thursday, taking a step closer to his dream of a record 21st Grand Slam despite a looming decision on his deportation.

The unvaccinated world number one, top seed and defending champion is looking to clinch a 10th title at Melbourne Park.

The 34-year-old tennis superstar was drawn to play Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.

But the openly vaccine-skeptic Djokovic’s championship hopes were in peril as Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke pondered whether to revoke his visa for a second time and throw him out of the country.

READ ALSO: Newcastle Sign Burnley Forward Chris Wood

Hawke is considering using his powers to annul the visa, his spokesman has said, although “lengthy further submissions” from Djokovic’s legal team have delayed a decision.

In a lengthy press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said no decision had yet been taken.

Djokovic flew into Melbourne airport on January 5 carrying a vaccine exemption because of a claimed positive PCR test result on December 16.

Border agents rejected his exemption, saying a recent infection was an insufficient justification, tore up his visa and placed him in a detention centre.

But Djokovic’s high-powered legal team overturned the visa decision in court on Monday on a procedural matter related to his airport interview.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper quoted an unnamed government source as saying that allowing Djokovic to stay in Australia without a Covid-19 vaccine would set a dangerous precedent.

The source was quoted as saying Morrison’s government was expected to act despite any international “backlash” because cancelling the visa would be line with Australia’s efforts to control the fast-spreading virus.

– ‘Drift on and on’ –

The government’s legal battle with Djokovic is politically charged in a country that has endured nearly two years of some of the toughest Covid-19 restrictions in the world, and in the run-up to May general elections.

“Australia has a policy of not allowing unvaccinated people into Australia. It is beyond my comprehension how we have got to this point,” Labor Party opposition leader Anthony Albanese said in an interview Thursday.

“How is it that Novak Djokovic was able to come here?”

As Covid-related hospitalisations rise in Melbourne, the Victorian state government said Thursday it would cap capacity at the Australian Open at 50 percent.

Spectators must be vaccinated or have a medical exemption.

Face masks will also be mandatory at the opening Grand Slam of the year except when eating or drinking, and those watching must socially distance while indoors.

The tournament starts Monday.

As the Omicron variant races through Australia’s population, Djokovic’s anti-vaccine stance has come under scrutiny.

The tennis ace described reports about his post-infection outings in Serbia as “misinformation” in an Instagram post-Wednesday.

On the day of his claimed positive test in Serbia, he appeared at a ceremony to honour him with stamps bearing his image. The following day he attended a youth tennis event. He appeared at both apparently without a mask.

Djokovic said he only received the PCR test result after attending the children’s tennis event on December 17.

But he admitted that he also went ahead with an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe on December 18.

– ‘Error of judgement’ –

“On reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” Djokovic said.

The journalist who carried out the L’Equipe interview, Franck Ramella, said Djokovic’s representatives had told him not to ask about Covid-19 vaccinations.

The reporter said he had been unaware at the time of the interview that Djokovic was Covid-positive.

The tennis star also admitted to a mistake on his Australian travel declaration, in which a box was ticked indicating that he had not, or would not, travel in the 14 days before flying to Melbourne.

In fact, social media posts and reports show he flew from Serbia to Spain during that period.

Djokovic blamed his support team for this.

“My agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia,” he said.

Leading immigration lawyer Christopher Levingston said the immigration minister could cancel Djokovic’s visa because the travel declaration was incorrectly completed.

But the minister may also act if he believes Djokovic may flout Australian public health orders, based on his failure to self-isolate in Serbia, he said.

Various options to appeal would be open for both Djokovic and the government, but at the end of the day, the immigration minister can exercise his personal power to cancel the visa, the lawyer said.

Djokovic Saga Leaves Australian Open Mired In Uncertainty

Novak Djokovic was denied aces to participate in the Australian Open despite ab exemption from two panels of medical experts
(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 22, 2020, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic attends an open air press conference in Belgrade. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

 

The Australian Open is mired in controversy and confusion just days before it begins, with Novak Djokovic’s title defence in grave doubt and questions about his fitness even if he is allowed to play.

The world number one’s decision not to get vaccinated against Covid-19 blew up when he was detained trying to enter Australia on a medical exemption last week.

The vaccine-sceptic Serbian won a court battle to remain and has been training at Melbourne Park, but he still might not play in the tournament with Australia’s immigration minister mulling whether to quash his visa.

Djokovic, who is chasing a record 21st Grand Slam title, was named the top men’s seed on Tuesday, even as his status remains unclear. The draw is due to be made on Thursday.

His former coach, Boris Becker, said that the 34-year-old was “shell-shocked” by having to spend five days in immigration detention — far from ideal build-up for the first Grand Slam of the year.

“Obviously his preparation is beyond bad. I don’t think he’s ever been in a worse position entering the week before a Grand Slam, but that’s just the way it is,” Becker told the BBC after speaking to the Serbian star on Monday.

If he does play, Djokovic is sure to face hostility from crowds upset that he is able to compete unvaccinated in a city that went through one of the longest series of lockdowns anywhere in the world.

“The crowd will be difficult with him but with each match he starts, he will win the crowd and they will embrace him again,” Becker said.

Speaking this week, as his fate hung in the balance, Djokovic said: “I just want to have the opportunity to compete against the best players in the world and perform before one of the best crowds in the world.”

Known as the ‘Happy Slam’ because of its bumper crowds, good weather and party atmosphere, it is the second year in a row that the Open has started under a cloud, after it was hit in 2021 by coronavirus.

Back then, top stars including Djokovic were forced to spend two weeks in their hotel rooms as part of Australia’s mandatory quarantine requirements, with many angry about it.

A resilient Djokovic emerged to win a record-extending ninth Australian Open title, while Naomi Osaka clinched the women’s crown.

– ‘Unanswered questions’ –

Australia’s treatment of Djokovic has divided observers and angered the Serbian government, but most can agree that tennis is the loser.

The ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis, called the affair “damaging on all fronts” and Britain’s former world number one Andy Murray said Tuesday that a resolution was needed as soon as possible.

“It’s the first match that I have played here or won here in over three years, and yes, this is where the situations like this are frustrating for players because I want to come off and talk about my tennis,” he said after victory in a Sydney warm-up tournament.

But the 34-year-old Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion, added that Djokovic also has “a few questions” to answer.

Covid and the highly infectious Omicron variant also stalk the Australian Open.

Australian crowd-pleaser Nick Kyrgios — who said that “how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad” — has tested positive for the virus, throwing his participation into major doubt.

Several high-profile players, including Spanish great Rafael Nadal, US Open champion Emma Raducanu and Tokyo Olympic champion Belinda Bencic are only just now returning to action from the virus.

Serena Williams and Roger Federer — two of tennis’s greatest players in the twilight of their careers — are missing from Melbourne as they recover from injury-hit 2021 seasons.

It is easy to forget there is actually some tennis happening.

Nadal, who showed few ill effects in winning the build-up Melbourne Summer Set on Sunday, is also chasing a 21st Slam title.

In the women’s draw, world number one Ashleigh Barty is the overwhelming favourite to break through and win a Grand Slam on home soil for the first time.

Serbia Hails Djokovic’s Australia Court Victory

Members of the local Serbian community members hold a banner outside the legal offices where Serbia’s tennis champion Novak Djokovic is in with his legal team in Melbourne on January 9, 2022.
William WEST / AFP

 

Serbians applauded Novak Djokovic’s win Monday over the Australian government, overturning the cancellation of his visa on Covid-19 and thus ending his detention by authorities.

“To the delight of all those who went out into the streets, who in all corners of the world offered their support Novak Djokovic won in Australia, as he always does,” read an editorial in the Serbian daily Blic.

The tabloid Vecernje novosti announced Djokovic “beat Australia”, while warning that “nothing is over”.

The tennis star’s legal victory was also welcomed by residents of the capital Belgrade, where hundreds rallied during the past week in support of their compatriot to whom Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic pledged full diplomatic backing.

Members of the local Serbian community play music and dance outside the legal offices where Serbia’s tennis champion Novak Djokovic is in with his legal team in Melbourne on January 9, 2022.
William WEST / AFP

 

“Bravoooo warrior!!! now take the 10th title and break all the records,” wrote fan Zoran Petrovic on Facebook.

Others remained anxious that Australian authorities would make one last effort to expel Djokovic ahead of the Australian Open.

Despite losing in court the Australian government has warned it could still force Djokovic to leave by cancelling his visa for a second time, which would see the Serb miss the tournament, starting on January 17.

READ ALSO: Djokovic Wins Australia Visa Case, Judge Orders His Release

“If they deport him, despite the court’s decision, it will be a scandal beyond measure,” said Bozidar Popovic, a 34-year-old economist in Belgrade.

“It’s unimaginable that they are going after a sportsman of this rank,” added Jelena Jovic, 47, a bank employee.

Little has been said about the revelation that Djokovic had tested positive for Covid-19 for a second time in December and was later seen attending public events maskless.

According to documents released by Australian authorities, Djokovic tested positive on the evening of December 16.

It remains unclear when exactly Djokovic was notified of the positive test, but individuals are usually informed of their results within hours by labs in Belgrade.

Pictures shared by the Belgrade tennis federation later showed him at a young players’ event in the city on December 17.

Djokovic Thanks Fans For Support Over Australia Visa Fight

File Photo of Serbia’s Novak Djokovic 
Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic on Friday thanked people “around the world” for their support since he was dramatically refused entry to Australia over his Covid-19 vaccine status.

The Serb, who is in a Melbourne immigration detention facility pending an appeal, said on Instagram: “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated.”

Djokovic, an outspoken vaccine sceptic, was held after arriving in Australia this week to play in the Australian Open, where he was bidding to win an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam title.

The men’s world number one’s visa was revoked for failing to meet the country’s tough pandemic restrictions, a development that has reverberated globally and sparked an angry reaction from Serbia.

Around 50 of his supporters — a mix of tennis fans, anti-vaccine demonstrators and immigrant rights activists — rallied in the rain Friday, the Orthodox Christmas, outside the detention facility in Melbourne where it is thought he is being held.

“We come out to support him just because it’s our Christmas and obviously he’s going through a lot,” said fan Sash Aleksic.

“There would obviously be a lot more people here if people did not have family obligations today.”

Not everyone was a supporter, though, reflecting anger at the case felt by many Australians, who have endured nearly two years of travel bans and rolling lockdowns.

“Refugees are welcome here, Djokovic is not,” chanted a group of protesters. Police intervened to separate them from the Djokovic fans.

“We want to show that what Novak stands for is anti-public health, anti-social solidarity, and we stand for the freedom of refugees who’ve been held for eight-plus years,” said Zak Barzovoy, a 27-year-old student.

The former Park Hotel, now officially known as an “alternative place of detention”, holds about 32 refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Australia’s hardline immigration system.

The five-storey centre gained notoriety last year when a fire forced migrants to be evacuated, and maggots were allegedly found in the food.

Djokovic’s family have said the hotel is “dirty”.

Foreigners are still mostly banned from travel to Australia, and those granted entry must be fully vaccinated or have a medical exemption.

Djokovic said he had secured an exemption to play in the Australian Open this month, but the Australian government said he did not meet the stricter standard required to enter the country.

– Can play French Open –
Australian authorities said the 34-year-old star provided no evidence of an exemption and was detained, pending deportation.

Djokovic’s stance on the Covid vaccine has raised questions about his participation in other major tournaments this year.

But France’s sports minister said her country would allow him to play in the French Open, the next Grand Slam tournament of the year, which starts in May, even if he was not vaccinated.

“There are health protocols imposed for major events by the relevant federations which would permit someone like Novak Djokovic to enter the country,” Roxana Maracineanu said.

“In France today we do not have the same regulations as Australia for entry to the country, either for athletes or any citizens from other countries,” she added.

Another player due to take part in the Australian Open, Czech player Renata Voracova, has had her visa cancelled and is in the same facility as Djokovic, her government said Friday.

Australian media reported she has been told she would have to leave the country soon, but it was not known if she would mount a legal challenge, as Djokovic has done.

– International scrutiny –
Djokovic’s father Srdjan told a crowd in Belgrade his son was the victim of a “political witch hunt” and “corona fascism”.

“Jesus was crucified and endured many things but is still alive among us,” he said in a fiery speech. “Novak is also crucified… the best sportsman and man in the world.”

Djokovic’s detention has sparked international scrutiny, with the Serbian government demanding explanations.

“Djokovic is not a criminal, terrorist or illegal migrant, but was treated that way by the Australian authorities which causes an understandable indignation of his fans and citizens of Serbia,” a foreign ministry statement said.

The country’s president, prime minister and foreign minister have issued a series of nationalist-tinged remarks brimming with anger at the treatment of the national hero.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended revoking Djokovic’s visa.

“Rules are rules and there are no special cases,” he said.

Tennis players seemed divided, but some rallied around Novak.

“Look I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mum’s health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad,” said Australian star Nick Kyrgios on social media.

Although Djokovic won a legal reprieve from deportation until at least Monday, when his attempt to overturn his visa cancellation will be heard in court, it is unclear whether he will play in the January 17-30 tournament.

Judge Anthony Kelly warned the star’s lawyers in a hearing Thursday that justice would move at its own pace through all necessary appeals. “The tail won’t be wagging the dog here,” he said.

Serbian President Denounces ‘Political Witch Hunt’ Of Djokovic

(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 22, 2020, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic attends an open-air press conference in Belgrade.  (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP)

 

Novak Djokovic is a victim of a ‘political witch hunt’ claimed Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday after Australian authorities said he failed to meet stringent pandemic entry requirements.

The 34-year-old world number one’s lawyers are appealing the decision which if it fails would see him deported from Australia.

The vaccine-sceptic Djokovic was detained on arrival at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport having failed to “provide appropriate evidence” of double vaccination or a medical exemption.

Djokovic had jetted into Melbourne on Wednesday having been granted a medical exemption by the Australian Open organisers.

He was hoping to defend his Australian Open crown and claim an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam title.

READ ALSO: Djokovic Fights Deportation After Australia Canceled His Visa

Vucic, though, claimed Djokovic was being hounded as other tennis players had been permitted to enter Australia with medical exemptions.

“What is not fair-play is the political witch hunt (being conducted against Novak), by everybody including the Australian Prime Minister pretending that the rules apply to all,” Vucic told the media.

Vucic said the Australian ambassador had been contacted twice by Serbian authorities and Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic will be in touch with a senior member of Australia’s Home Affairs department.

The Serbians will ask the Australian authorities that at the very least Djokovic can stay, whilst his appeal is heard, in the house in Melbourne he had rented for the Australian Open (which runs from January 17 to January 30) and not in the hotel he has been sent to.

Vucic described Djokovic’s treatment as being “infamous in the proper sense of the term.”

“I fear that this relentless political pursuit of Novak will continue until the moment they can prove something, because when you cannot defeat somebody then you turn to these type of things,” said Vucic.

Djokovic Heading To Australian Open With Medical Exemption

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic leaves the court after being defeated by Germany’s Alexander Zverev in their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men’s singles semifinal tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 30, 2021. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

 

World number one Novak Djokovic said Tuesday that he was heading to the Australian Open to defend his title after being granted a medical exemption to play.

All participants at the opening Grand Slam of the year, which starts on January 17, need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have the exemption, which is assessed by an independent panel of experts.

The Serb has repeatedly refused to confirm if he has been inoculated, with his participation at Melbourne Park the subject of intense speculation after he pulled out of the ongoing ATP Cup in Sydney.

“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!” the nine-time Australian Open winner, who beat Daniil Medvedev in last year’s final, said on Instagram.

His post was accompanied by a picture of the 34-year-old at an airport, looking relaxed, with his bags on a trolley.

“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts,” Tennis Australia said in a statement.

– ‘Genuine reason’ –

Tournament director Craig Tiley last week confirmed a number of players had been granted exemptions, without naming Djokovic, while explaining the process involved.

“There are two medical panels that assess any application, and they assess it in a blind way. They don’t know who the applicant is,” he told reporters.

“Against the ATAGI [Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation] guidelines, an exemption gets granted or not. The reason for granting that exemption remains private, between the panel and the applicant.”

He said on Tuesday there had to have been a “genuine reason” to grant an exemption.

READ ALSO: 24,000 Evacuated, Two Dead In Indonesian Floods

“Central to this process was that the decisions were made by independent medical experts and that every applicant was given due consideration,” he said.

Djokovic has previously expressed his opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine and his father Srdjan said in late November that his son would probably not play in Melbourne, accusing the organisers of “blackmail”.

Government officials in Victoria state, which hosts the Australian Open, had been adamant for months that only vaccinated players would be able to play the tournament.

“They’re the rules. Medical exemptions are just that — it’s not a loophole for privileged tennis players,” the state’s Deputy Premier James Merlino said recently.

Confirmation that the Serbian superstar is en route sets the scene for a showdown with arch-rival Rafael Nadal, with both gunning for a record 21st Grand Slam title.

The Spanish superstar is already in Melbourne preparing after recovering from the coronavirus.

Fellow 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer is sidelined by injury and not travelling to Australia.