The Australian Open was thrown into chaos last night after the Novak Djokovic deportation debacle threatened to derail the start of the tournament.
he world No 1 is facing another courtroom showdown with the Australian government on the eve of his first match in Melbourne following yesterday’s decision by the country’s immigration minister to cancel his visa.
Alex Hawke’s ruling led to Djokovic facing another night in a detention facility ahead of his hearing, leaving his preparations for what he hoped would be a record 21st major title in tatters.
But it also threw plans for the whole tournament into disarray, with organisers yesterday confirming Djokovic’s first-round match against his fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic would remain scheduled for its opening day, leaving themselves just 48 hours to resolve the furore.
Contingency plans have been drawn up in case Djokovic, the top seed and reigning champion, is thrown out of the country.
A “lucky loser” from the qualifying tournament would come in to face Kecmanovic, but while this would ensure the tournament could proceed as planned, it would lead to an unbalanced draw which would leave Matteo Berrettini – the seventh seed from Italy – as the highest-ranked player in the top quarter.
Tomorrow’s hearing at least looks set to settle the matter once and for all, with seemingly no more scope for further appeals to secure Djokovic’s release in time to begin the defence of his crown.
But the fallout from the case is certain to overshadow the start of the tournament, with Djokovic’s entry into Australia without being vaccinated against coronavirus having split the public and the sport.
Andy Murray, a long-time friend and rival of Djokovic, said yesterday that the Serb had to accept the “consequences” of refusing to get jabbed and admitted the controversy had cast a pall over the tournament.
“I just want it to get resolved,” he said, after reaching his first ATP Tour final since 2019 at the Sydney International.
“It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now. [It’s] not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak. A lot of people have criticised the government here, as well. It’s not been good.
“I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down. Ultimately, people have to make their own choices. But there are also consequences sometimes for those decisions, as well.”
The Scot, who announced he received his booster before flying to Australia, added: “The lady who gave me my third jab, she works in the hospital in central London, and she told me that every single person that is in ICU [intensive care unit] and on ventilators are all people that are unvaccinated.
“So, to me, it makes sense for people to go ahead and have it done. Yes, most young healthy athletes are probably going to be OK. But we’ve all got to play our part in this one.”
Sue Barker, the face of the BBC’s coverage and former French Open champion, told Radio 4: “My sympathy has gone now because I feel enough has happened and it’s now distracting from the whole tournament. This is a grand slam.
“He could have been there by being vaccinated. I know he’s chosen not to and that is his right, but it is also his choice and with that choice comes consequences.”
Djokovic was due to be taken back into detention last night ahead of a court hearing into a decision that could also lead to him being banned from re-entering Australia for three years. Hawke announced that Djokovic should be thrown out of the country “on health and good order grounds”.
Djokovic sought an injunction to prevent him being deported immediately, with his lawyer telling a court that Hawke’s ruling was made on the basis that allowing the Serb to remain had the “potential for exciting anti-vaxx sentiment”.
Proceedings were referred to the federal court, with the 34-year-old facing a grilling by immigration officials last night and a meeting with his lawyers two hours later before returning to either Melbourne’s infamous Park Hotel or a similar such facility.
He had been held for four days at the ad-hoc centre for refugees when his visa was first cancelled by border officials just over a week ago due to his Covid-19 vaccination status, a decision a judge overturned because he had not been given enough time to speak to lawyers.
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