Questions were also raised after Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley told Australia’s The Today Show Djokovic had been subject to a “blind review” (one where those deciding his fate would have done so using anonymised information) but later said “a conversation” had taken place between the player and panellists before a decision was made.
All this put Djokovic – who has previously refused to reveal his vaccination status but has made it clear he opposes compulsory inoculation – under major pressure to disclose the criteria under which he had been granted an exemption.
Tennis legend Rod Laver told the Herald Sun it would be in Djokovic’s “best interests to own up”, adding: “If he’s got a reason for [the exemption] then … we should know it.
“Yes, you’re a great player and you’ve performed and won so many tournaments, so, it can’t be physical. So what is the problem?”
Laver also warned Djokovic he could face open hostility from the Australian Open crowd. “I think it might get ugly,” Laver said. “I would think the Victorian people would be thinking, ‘Yes, I would love to see him play and compete but at the same time, there’s a right way and a wrong way’.”
Another former Australian player, Sam Groth, accused Djokovic of “laughing in the face of Victorians”, branding it a “brazen move” for the 20-time grand slam winner to announce his exemption on social media without offering a more detailed explanation.
Groth, currently in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, added in a column for News Corp: “He was here last year lifting the trophy and paying tribute to what Victorians in particular had endured. He played in empty stadiums during the snap lockdown. His announcement on Tuesday was tone-deaf. He should know better.”
‘They are holding my son captive’
News of Djokovic’s detention came amid claims his visa “issue” related to a failure to apply for the correct one for those entering Australia unvaccinated and questions over whether he had adequate documentation to prove the reason for his exemption.
He was questioned for hours by Australian Border Force (ABF) officials, with his father, Srdjan, telling Serbian radio station B92 his son was being held isolated in a room.
He later told Australian breakfast show Sunrise: “They are holding my son captive. If they don’t release him in the next half an hour, we will fight them on the street.”
In what was fast becoming a major diplomatic incident, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said his country was doing “everything to see that the harassment of Novak Djokovic is brought to an end immediately”.
Soon after, Australian health minister Greg Hunt confirmed Djokovic’s visa had been cancelled, while the ABF said in a statement: “The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled.
“Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia.”