Djokovic is due to spend the next three days in his hotel room in Melbourne until a court case on Monday that will decide his fate.
His lawyers have brought an injunction to prevent what would have been Djokovic’s immediate deportation after the humiliation of being held for nine hours at Melbourne airport on Wednesday.
Halfway through the detention, Djokovic’s father Srdjan spoke to a local radio station in Belgrade to try to exert some pressure for his release.
“I have no idea what’s going on, they’re holding my son captive for five hours,” he said. “This is not a fight for the libertarian world, this is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world. If they don’t let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street, this is a fight for everybody.”
Djokovic had arrived in Australia on the back of the exemption – still not fully explained but understood to be over a claim Djokovic had recovered from Covid-19 within the last six months – that had been provided by two independent medical panels organised by Tennis Australia and Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the major city.
The exemption was awarded only based on the applicant’s information, taken at face value, and then meant to be confirmed by border officials.
However, they were having none of it, refusing to accept the exemption, thus making the visa invalid. In an official statement, they said the tennis player had not met entry requirements.
The refusal has sparked a furious spat behind the scenes between the federal government and the state.
The government sent a letter to Tennis Australia a month before Djokovic arrived warning that having had Covid-19 within the past six months would no longer be sufficient to be granted an exemption to quarantine rules.
Djokovic’s jolly tweet sparked ire
With residents of Melbourne having endured more than 200 days in lockdown, the prospect of Djokovic swanning into Australia had begun to stir real resentment.
But what really provoked their ire seems to be Djokovic’s jolly post announcing his exemption and his imminent arrival.
Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, had appeared intently relaxed when first asked about the exemption granted by the Victorian government and Tennis Australia.
He didn’t criticise the decision, merely describing it as business as usual.
But by Thursday morning local time – and only after Djokovic had been refused entry by Australian Border Force officials, in other words Morrison’s own government – the prime minister’s tone had changed.
In a statement, Mr Morrison declared: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules.”
Mr Morrison suggested on Thursday that this was a crisis of the Serb’s making. He denied Djokovic was “singled out” by border officials, but did indicate the tennis champion was to blame for bringing “significant attention” to himself through “public statements” before arriving in the country.