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Djokovic in Australian Open draw as visa saga continues

Melbourne, Australia –

Novak Djokovic remained in limbo even after being included in the Australian Open draw on Thursday, with the tennis star still awaiting a government decision on whether to expel him for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Despite the cloud over Djokovic’s ability to compete, organizers of the Australian Open have included the seed in the draw. He is set to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, ranked world No.78, in the first round next week.

Djokovic, ranked No.1, had his visa canceled upon arriving in Melbourne last week when his immunization exemption was rejected, but he won a legal battle over procedural reasons that allowed him to stay in the country.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has been looking into the matter since a judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa on Monday.

Expectations of a pending decision were raised when Prime Minister Scott Morrison called an afternoon press conference after a National Cabinet meeting. Speculation escalated when the tournament draw was postponed from 75 minutes to an hour after Morrison’s press conference.

The wait continued after the two events ended, with Morrison referring questions about Djokovic to his immigration minister.

“These are personal ministerial powers that can be exercised by Minister Hawke and I do not propose to make any further comments at this time,” Morrison said.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley also declined to comment after the tournament’s draw ceremony which begins on Monday.

Djokovic, 34, has tried to focus his attention on the playing field in the four days since he was released from immigration detention. He held a practice session at the Rod Laver Arena, his fourth this week, in mid-afternoon.

He was on the training ground on Wednesday when a statement posted to his social media accounts admitted that his Australian travel declaration form contained incorrect information.

In the statement, Djokovic blamed “human error” on his support team for failing to state that he had traveled in the two weeks prior to entering Australia.

Giving false information on the form could be grounds for expulsion. This could result in penalties of up to a three-year ban on entering Australia, an intimidating prospect for a player who has won nearly half of his 20 Grand Slam singles titles here.

Djokovic acknowledged the shortcomings when he sought to clarify what he called “continuing disinformation” about his movements after being infected last month. It also raised questions about his public appearances in Serbia last month, particularly a media interview he attended when he knew he was positive.

It was another twist in a saga on whether the athlete should be allowed to stay in Australia even though he had not been vaccinated.

The first news that Djokovic had been granted a waiver of strict vaccination rules to enter the country sparked an uproar and the ensuing dispute has since eclipsed preparations for the Australian Open.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said most Australians disapprove of the nine-time and reigning Australian Open champion coming to Melbourne to compete in violation of the country’s strict pandemic quarantine rules.

“Most of us thought because Mr. Djokovic hadn’t been vaxxed twice that he would be asked to leave,” Joyce said. “Well, that was our point of view, but it wasn’t the court’s point of view.”

“The vast majority of Australians… did not like the idea that another individual, be it a tennis player or… the King of Spain or the Queen of England, could come here. and have a different set of rules that everyone has to deal with, ”Joyce added.

Debate over Djokovic’s presence in Australia rages amid a surge in COVID-19 infections across the country.

The state of Victoria, which hosts the Australian Open, on Thursday relaxed the seven-day isolation rules for close contact of those infected in sectors such as education and transport to reduce the number of ’employees who stay out of work.

The state recorded 37,169 new cases in the last 24-hour period on Thursday, as well as 25 deaths and 953 hospitalizations. With the increase in cases, the government of the state of Victoria has decided to limit the sales of tickets for the tennis tournament in an effort to reduce the risk of transmission.

Djokovic’s visa status has been debated since his arrival over a week ago, after posting on social media that he had received an exemption permit.

The question is whether he has a valid exemption from the strict rules requiring vaccination to enter Australia since he recently recovered from COVID-19.

His exemption from competition was approved by the state government of Victoria and Tennis Australia, the organizer of the tournament. This apparently enabled him to receive a visa to travel.

But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa on arrival before a federal judge overturned the decision. Government lawyers have said infection was only grounds for exemption in cases where the coronavirus has caused serious illness – although it is not clear why he received a visa if so .

If Djokovic’s visa is canceled, his lawyers could return to court to seek an injunction that would prevent him from being forced to leave the country.


McGuirk reported from Canberra, Australia.