Novak Djokovic Drawn To Play Australian Open First Round Despite Visa Uncertainty

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Novak Djokovic drew a first-round clash against a fellow Serb at the Australian Open on Thursday, taking a step closer to his dream of a record 21 Grand Slams despite an impending decision on his deportation. The unvaccinated world number one, top seed and defending champion is looking to clinch a tenth title at Melbourne Park. The 34-year-old tennis superstar was drawn to play Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.

But the openly vaccine-skeptical Djokovic’s championship hopes were in jeopardy when Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke pondered whether to revoke his visa a second time and expel him from the country.

Hawke is considering using his powers to nullify the visa, his spokeswoman said, though “additional lengthy filings” by Djokovic’s legal team have delayed a decision.

In a lengthy news conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said no decision had yet been made.

Djokovic flew into Melbourne airport on January 5 with a vaccine waiver due to a positive PCR test result affirmed on December 16.

Border agents refused to waive him, saying a recent infection was not sufficient justification, tore up his visa and placed him in a detention center.

But Djokovic’s powerful legal team overturned the visa decision in court on Monday over a procedural issue related to his airport interview.

Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper quoted an unnamed government source as saying allowing Djokovic to stay in Australia without a Covid-19 vaccine would set a dangerous precedent.

The source was quoted as saying the Morrison government was expected to act despite any international “backlash” because canceling the visa would be in line with Australia’s efforts to control the fast-spreading virus.

‘Go and go’

The government’s legal battle with Djokovic is politically charged in a country that has endured nearly two years of some of the world’s toughest Covid-19 restrictions, and in the run-up to a general election in May.

“Australia has a policy of not allowing unvaccinated people to enter Australia. It is beyond my comprehension how we have got to this point,” Opposition Labor Party Leader Anthony Albanese said in an interview on Thursday.

“How come Novak Djokovic was able to come here?”

As Covid-related hospitalizations rise in Melbourne, the Victoria state government said on Thursday it would limit capacity at the Australian Open to 50 per cent.

Spectators must be vaccinated or have a medical exemption.

Face masks will also be mandatory at the year’s opening Grand Slam, except when eating or drinking, and spectators must socially distance while indoors.

The tournament starts on Monday.

As the Omicron variant races through Australia’s population, Djokovic’s anti-vaccine stance has come under scrutiny.

The tennis ace described reports about his post-infection outings in Serbia as “misinformation” in an Instagram post on Wednesday.

On the day of his alleged positive test in Serbia, he appeared at a ceremony to honor him with stamps bearing his image. The next day he attended a junior tennis event. He appeared in both seemingly unmasked.

Djokovic said that he only received the result of the PCR test after attending the children’s tennis event on December 17.

But he admitted that he too went ahead with an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe on December 18.

‘judgment error’

“On reflection, this was an error in judgment and I accept that I should have rescheduled this match,” Djokovic said.

The journalist who conducted the L’Equipe interview, Franck Ramella, said that Djokovic’s representatives had told him not to ask about the covid-19 vaccines.

The reporter said that he did not know at the time of the interview that Djokovic was covid-positive.

The tennis star also admitted an error on his travel statement to Australia, in which a box was checked indicating that he had not traveled or would not travel in the 14 days before flying to Melbourne.

Indeed, social media posts and reports show that he flew from Serbia to Spain during that period.

Djokovic blamed his support team for this.

“My agent sincerely apologizes for the clerical error of checking the wrong box about my previous trip before I came to Australia,” he said.

Prominent immigration lawyer Christopher Levingston said the immigration minister could cancel Djokovic’s visa because the travel declaration was filled out incorrectly.

But the minister can also act if he believes Djokovic may breach Australian public health orders because he did not isolate himself in Serbia, he said.

Various appeal options would be open to both Djokovic and the government, but at the end of the day, the immigration minister can exercise his personal power to cancel the visa, the lawyer said.

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