Things just aren’t looking up for Novak Djokovic — and, if the Australian government has its way, the 34-year-old tennis star could soon be packing his bags and heading home without hitting the clay court at next week’s Australian Open.
According to court documents filed by Djokovic’s lawyers, the nine-time Australian Open champion and noted anti-vaxxer returned to an immigration detention facility in Melbourne Saturday evening. The move comes a day after his visa was once again revoked by the country’s Immigration Minister and also marks the second time Djokovic has been detained by Australian authorities since his arrival in the country on Jan. 5.
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Sunday morning, the BBC reported — just one day before Djokovic is scheduled to appear in the tournament. Should he lose the appeal, Djokovic will be deported, thus depriving him the opportunity to clinch a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam win. Deportation from Australia also comes with a potential three-year ban from the country.
At issue is the top-ranked tennis player’s refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 — a requirement for all visitors to Australia.
Djokovic’s request for a medical exemption to the government policy was rejected upon his arrival at Melbourne’s airport, prompting his initial detention — but suspicions over whether or not Djokovic intentionally mislead Australian authorities by lying on travel documents further exacerbated the matter. Djokovic claims the mix-up was the result of “human error.”
In a statement released to the press Friday, Australia’s immigration minister Alex Hawke cited “public interest” as the motivation behind the decision to revoke Djokovic’s vida, claiming the government is “firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Djokovic’s lawyers assert, however, that officials have instead used the opportunity to make an example of Djokovic, pointing specifically to statements by Hawke which claimed Djokovic “creates a risk of strengthening the anti-vaccination sentiment of a minority of the Australian community.”
“The Minister cited no evidence that supported his finding that Mr. Djokovic’s presence in Australia may ‘foster anti-vaccination sentiment,’ and it was not open to the Minister to make that finding,” Djokovic’s lawyers wrote.
At a pre-tournament press conference held Saturday, other members of the tennis community didn’t shy away from weighing in on the ongoing Djokovic drama.
“He’s just a great player, and it’s kind of sad that some people might remember him in this way,” Naomi Osaka told reporters. “But, I also think it’s not up to tennis players. It’s up to the government — like, how Australia is deciding to handle it.”
Rafael Nadal, who is also a contender for a 21st Grand Slam win at this year’s tournament, had a much stronger take on Djokovic’s legal woes.
“Honestly, I’m a little bit tired of the situation,” the Spanish tennis ace said. “The Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he’s playing, finally, OK. If he’s not playing, the Australian Open will be a great Australian Open, with or without him. That’s my point of view.”