MELBOURNE (AFP) – Novak Djokovic drew a first-round clash against a fellow Serb in the Australian Open yesterday, taking a step closer to his dream of a record 21st Grand Slam despite a looming decision on his deportation.
The unvaccinated world number one, top seed and defending champion is looking to clinch a 10th title at Melbourne Park.
The 34-year-old tennis superstar was drawn to play Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round. But the openly vaccine-sceptic Djokovic’s championship hopes were in peril as Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke pondered whether to revoke his visa for a second time and throw him out of the country.
Hawke is considering using his powers to annul the visa, his spokesman has said, although “lengthy further submissions” from Djokovic’s legal team have delayed a decision.
In a press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said no decision had yet been taken.
Djokovic flew into Melbourne airport on January 5 carrying a vaccine exemption because of a claimed positive PCR test result on December 16.
Border agents rejected his exemption, saying a recent infection was an insufficient justification, tore up his visa and placed him in a detention centre. But Djokovic’s high-powered legal team overturned the visa decision in court on Monday on a procedural matter related to his airport interview.
Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper quoted an unnamed government source as saying that allowing Djokovic to stay in Australia without a COVID-19 vaccine would set a dangerous precedent.
The source was quoted as saying Morrison’s government was expected to act despite any international “backlash” because cancelling the visa would be line with Australia’s efforts to control the fast-spreading virus.
The government’s legal battle with Djokovic is politically charged in a country that has endured nearly two years of some of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions in the world, and in the run-up to May general elections.