MELBOURNE: World number one Novak Djokovic has languished in a Melbourne detention centre since Thursday morning after having his Australian visa cancelled over his Covid-19 vaccine status.
The 34-year-old, who is hoping to defend his Australian Open title and win a record 21st Grand Slam title, faces being deported if he loses a court appeal scheduled for Monday.
AFP looks at how the drama, which has reverberated around the world, has unfolded:
Tuesday, January 4
— Djokovic says he is heading to the Australian Open to defend his title after being granted a medical exemption to play.
All participants at the Australian Open, which starts on January 17, need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or have a medical exemption, assessed by an independent panel of experts.
The Serb has repeatedly refused to confirm if he has been inoculated, with his participation at the opening Grand Slam of the year at Melbourne Park the subject of intense speculation for months.
“I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!” the nine-time Australian Open winner says on Instagram.
Wednesday, January 5
— Australian Open tournament chief Craig Tiley says 26 players or their support staff from the 3,000 or so travelling had asked for an exemption, but only a few were successful.
“There’s been no special favour. There’s been no special opportunity granted to Novak,” said Tiley.
— Stephen Parnis, a former Australian Medical Association vice-president, said it sent an “appalling message” to people trying to stop the spread of Covid-19.
“I don’t care how good a tennis player he is. If he’s refusing to get vaccinated, he shouldn’t be allowed in,” Parnis said on Twitter.
Thursday, January 6
— Australia says it has cancelled the entry visa of Djokovic on his arrival in Melbourne.
“Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled,” the Australian Border Force said in a statement.
“Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia,” it added.
— Djokovic is moved to an immigration detention centre while his lawyers lodge an appeal.
— The incident sparks an immediate spat. Serbia President Aleksandar Vucic says he spoke with Djokovic over the phone and told him that “the whole of Serbia is with him and that our authorities are undertaking all measures in order that maltreatment of the world’s best tennis player ends as soon as possible”.
The player’s father, Srdjan said his son was “held captive for five hours”.
“Jesus was crucified and endured many things but is still alive among us,” he said on Orthodox Christmas Eve. “Novak is also crucified… the best sportsman and man in the world. He will endure.”
— However, Djokovic’s long-time rival and fellow 20-time major winner Rafael Nadal says: “He made his own decisions and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences.”
Friday, January 7
— Djokovic thanks fans for their support. “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated,” he wrote on Instagram.
– Czech doubles player Renata Voracova, who also entered on an exemption as she had recently recovered from Covid, ends up in the same detention facility as Djokovic.
The 38-year-old tells Czech media the centre “is like a prison” with guards on every floor.
Saturday, January 8
— Djokovic was given a Covid-19 vaccine exemption because he tested positive for the virus on December 16, his lawyers say in a 32-page court filing.
However, it is then claimed that Djokovic was at a young players event in Belgrade the following day, without a mask.
The Belgrade tennis federation, in a Facebook post after the December 17 ceremony, reported that Djokovic had handed over cups and awards to best young players in 2021.
— His lawyers also claim that he was held at Melbourne airport on his arrival for eight hours, mostly incommunicado.
— Voracova leaves Australia.