Tennis world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was included in the official Australian Open draw on Thursday, though uncertainty remained over whether the government would revoke the top-seeded visa for a second time.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is exercising his discretionary powers to revoke Djokovic’s visa over concerns about the superstar’s medical exemption from Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements.
Djokovic, who had been practicing at the Rod Laver Arena earlier on Thursday, drew unseeded Serbian fellow Serbian Miomir Kekmanovic for his opening round match, which is expected to be played on Monday or Tuesday.
Organizers delayed the official draw by over an hour without any explanation.
Djokovic, a vaccine skeptic, sparked widespread anger in Australia last week when he announced he was heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open, which granted visitors a medical exemption from vaccination requirements against COVID-19.
Upon his arrival, Australian Border Force officers decided that his exemption was invalid and he was held with asylum seekers in an immigration detention hotel for several days.
A court on Monday allowed him to stay on the grounds that the way officials handled his interview in the middle of the night in a seven-hour process was “unfair”.
The Australian government, which has garnered strong support at home for its tough stance on border security before and during the pandemic, must now decide whether to let Djokovic stay and bid for a record 21st major title.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on Djokovic’s visa on Thursday.
Errors on Djokovic’s part
Djokovic’s reason was not helped by a mistake in his admission announcement, where the box stated that he had not traveled abroad in the two weeks before moving to Australia.
Actually, he went to Spain from Serbia.
Djokovic, 34, blamed his agent for the error and admitted he should have also rescheduled an interview and photoshoot for a French newspaper on 18 December while he was infected with COVID-19.
look | Attributed to human error, Djokovic said of the wrong travel document:
Fans, including many Serbian Australians, scoffed at his detention, anti-Semitism hailed him as a hero and his family portrayed him as a champion for individual rights.
But when Djokovic walks off the court, he may face hostility from the crowd.
The saga has sparked widespread anger among Australians, who have a 90 per cent vaccination rate among adults and are battling a wave of Omicron versions after ending some of the world’s longest lockdowns aimed at curbing the pandemic.
There can also be outrage in the dressing room, where everyone except three of the top 100 men are vaccinated.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova told Australian television that Djokovic should “suck it up” and return home.
“The bottom line is, sometimes your personal beliefs have to be good for the greater good, for the people around you, for your teammates,” she told the Sevens Sunrise program. “You have two choices, get vaccinated or just don’t go to play.”
look | Djokovic allowed to stay in Australia for now: