Novak Djokovic drew a first-round clash against a fellow Serb in the Australian Open on Thursday, 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.
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.
In a lengthy press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said no decision had yet been taken.
Border agents rejected his exemption, saying a recent infection was an insufficient justification, tore up his visa and placed him in a detention centre.
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.
– ‘Drift on and on’ –
“Australia has a policy of not allowing unvaccinated people into Australia. It is beyond my comprehension how we have got to this point,” Labor Party opposition leader Anthony Albanese said in an interview Thursday.
As Covid-related hospitalisations rise in Melbourne, the Victorian state government said Thursday it would cap capacity at the Australian Open at 50 percent.
Face masks will also be mandatory at the opening Grand Slam of the year except when eating or drinking, and those watching must socially distance while indoors.
As the Omicron variant races through Australia’s population, Djokovic’s anti-vaccine stance has come under scrutiny.
On the day of his claimed positive test in Serbia, he appeared at a ceremony to honour him with stamps bearing his image. The following day he attended a youth tennis event. He appeared at both apparently without a mask.
But he admitted that he also went ahead with an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe on December 18.
“On reflection, this was an error of judgement and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” Djokovic said.
The reporter said he had been unaware at the time of the interview that Djokovic was Covid-positive.
In fact, social media posts and reports show he flew from Serbia to Spain during that period.
“My agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia,” he said.
But the minister may also act if he believes Djokovic may flout Australian public health orders, based on his failure to self-isolate in Serbia, he said.