Tennis Australia powerless to support Djokovic's visa application, says CEO Tiley

Nine-time Australian Open champion subject to possible three-year ban after his deportation in January

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Tennis Australia is powerless to support Novak Djokovic should the 21-time Grand Slam champion attempt to enter the country for the Australian Open next year, said the organisation's CEO Craig Tiley.

Djokovic was deported from Australia in January, after arriving in the country to defend his ninth Australia Open title, due to being unvaccinated against Covid-19. The Serb had travelled Down Under with a medical exemption, having tested positive for the coronavirus in the December, but that was not deemed a sufficient reason by the authorities.

A tumultuous 10-day legal saga ensued that saw Djokovic largely confined to an immigration detention hotel before his visa was revoked on the eve of the tournament.

Djokovic originally was granted an exemption to strict vaccination rules by two medical panels and Tennis Australia but, after traveling to Melbourne believing he had all his paperwork in order, the exemption was rejected by the Australian Border Force.

“It is not a matter we can lobby on. It is a matter that definitely stays between the two of them,” Tiley said Wednesday at a launch for the 2023 event, referring to Djokovic and the Australian government.

“And then, depending on the outcome, we would welcome him to the Australian Open.”

Being deported made Djokovic subject to a possible three-year exclusion period that prevents the granting of a further temporary visa, although Australian Border Force in January said any exclusion period “will be considered as part of any new visa application and can be waived in certain circumstances."

Australia has changed its border rules and, since July 6, incoming travellers no longer have to provide proof of Covid-19 vaccinations.

Tiley was heavily criticised for his role in the confusion that led to the then top-ranked player in men’s tennis landing in Australia believing he was exempt from strict laws for unvaccinated travellers, then being questioned by border officials for hours at Melbourne Airport before being held in immigration detention.

The main source of confusion was the exemptions granted to Djokovic and some others by the state government and Tennis Australia to participate in the tournament — despite regulations requiring all fans, officials and players be vaccinated for Covid-19 — which ultimately still needed to be assessed by border security officials.

Djokovic was allowed to practice at Melbourne Park after some initial success in a court of law, but Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used discretionary powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa on character grounds, stating he was a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment".

A recent winner of tournaments in Israel and Kazakhstan, Djokovic can apply to new Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to reconsider his visa status.

Tiley, who is also the Australian Open tournament director, said he met with Djokovic in London last month during the Laver Cup and believes the Serbian star holds no bitterness about the saga. But he stressed that the pair spoke only generally about Djokovic’s visa situation.

“He said that he would obviously love to come back to Australia but he knows it’s going to be an ultimate decision for the Federal Government and he accepts that,” Tiley said. “If you notice, he is playing a lot of tennis at the end of the year in anticipation and hope there is a successful outcome with his application. But that is up to him.”

Tiley said the Australian Open had no plans to follow the lead of Wimbledon, which banned Russian and Belarusian players from competing this year because of the invasion of Ukraine.

But there will be no reference to the nationality of those players, including 2022 Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev of Russia and two-time women’s singles champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, as per tour rules.

Updated: October 12, 2022, 9:50 AM
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