Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic practises at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, on January 13 2022. Picture: REUTERS/ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic practises at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia, on January 13 2022. Picture: REUTERS/ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE

Melbourne — Tennis men’s world number one Novak Djokovic was included in the Australian Open official draw on Thursday, though uncertainty hung over his participation with the government yet to decide whether to cancel the top seed’s visa for a second time.

Immigration minister Alex Hawke is weighing exercising his discretionary power to revoke Djokovic’s visa over concern about the star’s medical exemption from Australia's Covid-19 vaccination requirements.

The 34-year-old defending champion, who practised at the Rod Laver Arena earlier on Thursday, drew unseeded fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic for his opening round match, expected to be played on Monday or Tuesday.

Organiser Tennis Australia had delayed the official draw for more than an hour, without saying why.

Djokovic, a vaccine sceptic, fuelled widespread anger in Australia last week when he announced he was heading to Melbourne for the Australian Open with a medical exemption to requirements for visitors to be inoculated against Covid-19.

When Djokovic arrived, Australian Border Force officials decided his exemption was invalid and he was held alongside asylum seekers at an immigration detention hotel for several days.

A court on Monday allowed him to stay on the grounds that officials had been “unreasonable” in the way they handled his interview in a seven-hour process in the middle of the night.

Widespread anger

Djokovic’s cause was not helped by what he called “a mistake” in his entry declaration, where the box stating he had not travelled abroad in the two weeks prior to leaving for Australia was ticked.

In fact, he had gone to Spain from Serbia.

Djokovic attributed the error to his agent and acknowledged he also should have rescheduled an interview and photo shoot for a French newspaper on December 18 while infected with Covid-19.

Fans, including many Serbian Australians, gave him noisy support when he was detained, anti-vaxxers have hailed him as a hero and his family have portrayed him as a champion for individual rights.

But Djokovic may face hostility from the crowd when he walks out on court.

There is widespread anger over the saga among Australians, who have a 90% vaccination rate among adults and are battling a wave of the Omicron variant after enduring some of the world’s longest lockdowns aimed at curbing the pandemic.

“I don’t like his arrogance,” Teyhan Ismain, a Melbourne resident, said on Wednesday. “It does seem that he’s been telling a few fibs too. So I think he should just probably go back.”

There may also be resentment in the dressing room, where all but three of the top 100 men are inoculated.

Reuters


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