Locked in a dispute over his COVID-19 vaccination status, Novak Djokovic was confined to an immigration detention hotel in Australia on Thursday as the No. 1 men’s tennis player in the world awaited a court ruling on whether he can compete in the Australian Open later this month.
Djokovic, a vocal skeptic of vaccines, had traveled to Australia after Victoria state authorities granted him a medical exemption to the country’s strict vaccination requirements. But when he arrived late Wednesday, the Australian Border Force rejected his exemption as invalid and barred him from entering the country.
A court hearing on his bid to stave off deportation was set for Monday, a week before the season’s first major tennis tournament is set to begin. The defending Australian Open champion is waiting it out in Melbourne at a secure hotel used by immigration officials to house asylum seekers and refugees.
Djokovic is hoping to overtake rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the records and win his 21st Grand Slam singles title, the most by any player in men’s tennis.
Djokovic’s securing of an exemption so that he could play triggered an uproar and allegations of special treatment in Australia, where people spent months in lockdown and endured harsh travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic.
After his long-haul flight, the tennis star spent the night at the airport trying to convince authorities he had the necessary documentation, to no avail.
“The rule is very clear,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “You need to have a medical exemption. He didn’t have a valid medical exemption. We make the call at the border, and that’s where it’s enforced.”
‘Rules are rules;’ Australian PM says Djokovic failed to provide proof of medical exemption
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the athlete’s visa was canceled after border officials reviewed Djokovic’s medical exemption and looked at “the integrity and the evidence behind it.”
The grounds on which he was granted an exemption were not immediately disclosed.
While Djokovic has steadfastly refused to say whether he has gotten any shots against the coronavirus, he has spoken out against vaccines, and it is widely presumed he would not have sought an exemption if he had been vaccinated.
A federal judge will take up the case next week. A lawyer for the government agreed the nine-time Australian Open champion should not be deported before then.
“I feel terrible since yesterday that they are keeping him as a prisoner. It’s not fair. It’s not human. I hope that he will win,” Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said after speaking with him briefly by telephone from Belgrade.
She added: “Terrible, terrible accommodation. It’s just some small immigration hotel, if it’s hotel at all.”
Australia’s home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, said Friday that Djokovic could fly out of the country on the first available flight.
“Can I say, firstly, that Mr. Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia. He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so,” Andrews said. “And Border Force will actually facilitate that.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that he had spoken to Djokovic and that his government asked that the athlete be allowed to move to a house he has rented and “not to be in that infamous hotel.”
He added that Djokovic has been treated differently from other players.
“I’m afraid that this overkill will continue,” Vucic said. “When you can’t beat someone, then you do such things.”
Border Force investigations were continuing into two other people who arrived in Australia for the tennis tournament, Andrews said.
Djokovic says he supports WTA suspending China events over Peng Shuai concerns
Australia’s prime minister said the onus is on the traveler to have the proper documentation on arrival, and he rejected any suggestion that Djokovic was being singled out.
“One of the things the Border Force does is act on intelligence to direct their attention to potential arrivals,” he said. “When you get people making public statements about what they say they have, and they’re going to do, they draw significant attention to themselves.”
Anyone who does that, he said, “whether they’re a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player … they can expect to be asked questions more than others before you come.”
The medical-exemption applications from players, their teams and tennis officials were vetted by two independent panels of experts. An approved exemption allowed entry to the tournament.
Acceptable reasons for an exemption include major health conditions and serious reactions to a previous dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A COVID-19 infection within the previous six months has also been widely reported to be grounds for an exemption, but that’s where interpretations appeared to differ between the federal level, which controls the border, and tennis and state health officials.
Djokovic tested positive for the coronavirus in June 2020 after he played in a series of exhibition matches that he organized without social distancing amid the pandemic.
Critics questioned what grounds Djokovic could have for the exemption, while supporters argued he has a right to privacy and freedom of choice.
Many Australians who have struggled to obtain COVID-19 tests or have been forced into isolation saw a double standard.
Tension has grown amid another surge of COVID-19 in the country. Victoria state recorded six deaths and nearly 22,000 new cases on Thursday, the biggest one-day jump in the caseload since the pandemic began.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley on Wednesday defended the “completely legitimate application and process” and insisted there was no special treatment for Djokovic.
Twenty-six people connected with the tournament applied for a medical exemption and, Tiley said, only a “handful” were granted. None of those have been publicly identified.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
Canada's Denis Shapovalov is on to the fourth round of the Australian Open – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, January 21, 2022 7:28AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 21, 2022 6:40PM EST
MELBOURNE, Australia — Canada’s Denis Shapovalov has a spot in the fourth round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career.
He beat Reilly Opelka 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Friday to set up a showdown with third-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany.
The Canadian has been pushed hard at Melbourne Park, averaging three hours 37 minutes of court time per win so far.
“I’ve gotten very familiar with the ice baths the last week,” Shapovalov said with a smile in an on-court interview. “We’ve become very good friends.”
At six foot 11 and 225 pounds, Opelka is an imposing force on the court. He had a 17-10 edge in aces on the 14th-seeded Shapovalov but made 46 unforced errors.
“Early on I actually found a rhythm on his serve,” Shapovalov said. “I was able to chip quite a lot back, so I was happy with that. I think I did a really good of just taking the chances today.
“Obviously it’s really tough to get the rhythm against a guy like that so I’m super happy.”
It was the first career meeting between Shapovalov and the 23rd-seeded American. Zverev, meanwhile, has a 4-2 edge in head-to-head matchups against the Canadian.
“Hopefully I can win,” Zverev said. “It’s going to be a great match.”
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., previously reached the third round at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. The 22-year-old’s best Grand Slam performance was a semifinal showing last year at Wimbledon.
Zverev defeated Maldova’s Radu Albot 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in third-round play.
“Radu is in great form right now … 1/8I’m 3/8 happy to be through in three sets,” Zverev said.
Ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal was scheduled to play Britain’s Daniel Evans in third-round play Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2022.
Defense trade targets for the Maple Leafs, Sheldon Keefe's "soft" comment, and how many games should Petr Mrazek start the rest of the way? – MLHS Podcast Episode 38 – Maple Leafs Hot Stove
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Tennis-‘I’m not God! Can’t win every match’ – Osaka proud despite early exit
Naomi Osaka was at peace with herself after yet another failed attempt at defending a Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and the former world number one was especially proud of the way she has managed to mould her mindset to deal with tough losses.
The former world number one crashed out from Melbourne Park after a third round loss in the deciding set tiebreaker to American Amanda Anisimova — the same stage the four-times major winner exited the U.S. Open four months back.
Following the Flushing Meadows defeat, a tearful Osaka told a news conference that she was taking a break from the sport, raising more concern about her mental health struggles that forced her to miss parts of the tennis season.
The soft spoken and self-confessed introvert declared at the start of the 2022 season that she was looking to have more fun on court and enjoy playing the sport.
“I would definitely say I’m proud of myself for this,” the Japanese player told reporters on Friday. “Though to me it didn’t feel like a short amount of time. It felt like ages ago.
“This for me is the biggest step. Even though I lost. I was really focused throughout the entire match, and I didn’t have a dip. So that’s really good. Hopefully as the season continues, I’ll be able to keep this up, and get even better at it.”
It was the fourth time that Osaka had failed to defend a Grand Slam title but on Friday she held two matchpoints against the American – something that also made her proud.
Osaka felt her defeat by 60th-ranked Anisimova showed the depth of women’s tennis.
“I fought for every point. I can’t be sad about that,” Osaka said, adding that she was yet to decide on her schedule before the WTA 1000 event in Indian Wells in March.
“I’m not God! I can’t win every match. The last match that I played in New York I think I had a completely different attitude.
“Of course I lost, but I’m happy with how it went. I just want to go into this year knowing that I’ll play the whole year and I’ll just have the greatest attitude ever.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Christian Radnedge)
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