Tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic has been included in the Australian Open draw as top seed on Thursday although uncertainty is hanging over his participation with the government contemplating to revoke his visa for a second time.
Reuters reports that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could exercise discretionary power to cancel the visa over concern about the Serbian’s medical exemption from Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rules.
The 34-year-old defending champion, who practiced at the Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, drew unseeded Serb, Miomir Kecmanovic, for his opening match, probably on Monday or Tuesday.
The saga has intensified global debate over the rights of the unvaccinated and become a tricky political issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he campaigns for re-election. Australia is due to hold an election by May, and while Morrison’s government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security, it has not escaped criticism over the botched handling of Djokovic’s visa.
Djokovic, a vaccine sceptic, fuelled widespread anger in Australia when he announced he was heading to Melbourne with a medical exemption from requirements for visitors to be inoculated against COVID-19. On arrival, Australian Border Force 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 grounds that officials had been “unreasonable” at his interview in a seven-hour process in the middle of the night. The government must now decide whether to let Djokovic remain and bid for a record men’s 21st major title.
Djokovic’s cause was not helped by a mistake in his entry declaration, where a box was ticked stating he had not travelled abroad in the two weeks before leaving for Australia.
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 of individual rights.