Novak Djokovic, the number one tennis star in the world, was denied entry into Australia on Thursday after initially being granted a medical exemption for the country’s Covid-19 vaccination requirements so that he could play in the Australian Open.
The tennis star, left stranded at Melbourne’s Tullamanrien airport overnight, was issued a letter by the Australian government saying his visa had been denied and he would be deported, a source close to the tournament told Reuters.
The tennis star was filing an injunction to prevent his deportation, the source said.
Djokovic was left stranded at a Melbourne airport overnight, having touched down Wednesday about 11:30 p.m. local time after a 14-hour flight from Dubai.
It emerged that his team had applied for a visa that does not allow for medical exemptions.
That prompted the local government of Victoria, the state where the Open is played, to say it would not support Djokovic’s application.
The extraordinary move by the Australian government to block Djokovic from entering the country because of a mistake on his visa form threatened to cause a diplomatic incident between Canberra and Belgrade.
“I’ve just finished my telephone conversation with Novak Djokovic,” Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic posted on Instagram. “I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.
“In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice. Novak is strong, as we all know.”
Vucic had summoned the Australian ambassador in Belgrade and demanded that they immediately release Djokovic to play, Serbian media reported.
Djokovic’s father Srdjan said that his son was waiting alone in a room at the airport under armed guard for a final decision on whether he could enter the country.
“I have no clue what’s going on, they’ve kept my son in captivity for five hours now,” Srdjan told the Serbian online version of Sputnik. “If they don’t let him go in half a hour, we’ll gather in the streets, this is a battle for everyone.”
“Not the most usual trip from Down Under,” coach Goran Ivanisevic commented beside an Instagram selfie from the airport lounge, accompanied by face-palm and mind-blown emojis.
Morrison has faced an enormous backlash over his government’s decision to grant Djokovic a medical exemption from vaccination to play at the Open, leading to fingerpointing between the Prime Minister’s conservative administration and the left-leaning Victorian government led by premier Dan Andrews.
Australia, especially the state of Victoria, has endured the world’s longest cumulative lockdown and an outbreak of the Omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels.
Following the backlash, Morrison suggested Djokovic’s participation was not a done deal and he would have to satisfy the federal government, which has responsibility for international borders and visas and was not part of the exemption process.
Morrison said shortly before Djokovic’s arrival that there would be “no special rules” for him on his exemption.
“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home,” Morrison told a media conference earlier.