Novak Djokovic had boarded the flight to Melbourne as a privileged sporting hero – exempted from vaccination requirements and quarantine in Australia. Little did he know that the 27.6 kilometres between Melbourne Park and the Melbourne Airport, normally a 22-minute drive, might not just be covered in time to open his Australian Open title defence.
The Serbian tennis icon, who reached Melbourne in quest of his 21st Grand Slam title, was denied entry in the Victorian Capital. He “did not have a valid medical exemption” to the vaccination requirements for arrival in Australia.
Djokovic, who has never disclosed his inoculation status, has taken the legal route to clear the blockage, finds little support. Rafael Nadal, tied on 20 Grand Slam titles with Djokovic, said “he (Djokovic) knew the conditions”. Feeling “sorry” for his rival ahead of the Australian Open, Nadal added that Djokovic was aware of the vaccine requirement to play in the Australian Open.
“He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences,” Nadal, who won his first singles match since August on Thursday, told reporters in Melbourne.
“Of course, I don’t like the situation that is happening. In some way, I feel sorry for him. But at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago, so he makes his own decision.”
Tennis Australia, the Australian Open host body, had exempted Djokovic from mandatory vaccination requirements. Many Melbourne residents had objected to this “special treatment” to the Australian Open defending champion.
Since the general elections are coming closure, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison supported the common sentiment.
“Djokovic didn’t have a valid medical exemption to the vaccination requirement for arrivals,” Morrison said at a Press briefing yesterday.
The 34-year-old was denied entry in Melbourne, but his legal team stepped in before the deportation. An urgent injunction has been sought against the Australian Border Forces’ decision to revoke his visa.
The matter has reportedly been adjourned until Monday. Till the court verdict, Djokovic will be confined to his hotel room.
The absence of nine-time Australian Open champion will propel the probability of Nadal winning a record 21st Grand Slam title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer are tied at 20 major titles each.
The Australian Open will start on January 17, with the men’s final taking place on January 30.