By Eleanor Crooks, PA Tennis Correspondent and Meg Hill, PA, Melbourne
Two other people connected to the Australian Open have joined Novak Djokovic in being instructed to leave the country by the Australian border force.
Djokovic has been detained since Thursday morning at an immigration facility in Melbourne after his visa was cancelled following scrutiny of the medical exemption he had secured to enter the country.
He has appealed against the decision and must wait for a hearing on Monday to discover his fate, but the furore focused attention on other exemptions granted to unvaccinated players who cited a recent infection to gain access to Australia.
An Australian border force spokesperson told the PA news agency: “The Australian Border Force (ABF) can confirm that its investigation into the visa status of two other individuals connected to the Australian Open has concluded.
“The ABF can confirm that one individual has voluntarily departed Australia following ABF inquiries.
“We can also confirm that the visa of a third individual has been cancelled. This person has been taken into immigration detention pending their removal from Australia.
“The ABF employ a multi-layered approach to border management. This includes avenues to investigate, locate and detain individuals who have been found to breach our border entry requirements after their arrival into Australia.”
One of the individuals is Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova, who played in a warm-up tournament in Melbourne this week but has now opted to leave Australia.
It’s Christmas today for us, my wishes are for everyone to be healthy, happy, safe and together with families. We wish we are all together today, but my consolation is that at least we are healthy. And we will grow from this experience. 🎄🙏♥️
— Jelena Djokovic (@jelenadjokovic) January 7, 2022
A spokeswoman from the Czech ministry of foreign affairs told the country’s Sport newspaper: “Renata Voracova decided to give up further participation in the tournament due to the limited possibility of training and to leave Australia. Our embassies in Australia are assisting her in completing the formalities for leaving the country.”
The spokeswoman also said a protest note had been filed with the Australian authorities and an explanation of the situation sought.
Friday was Christmas in Serbia, but Djokovic faces spending the weekend in Melbourne’s Park Hotel, which is used to house asylum seekers and refugees, before Monday’s hearing.
He broke his silence with a brief message on Instagram, saying: “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it, and it is greatly appreciated.”
His wife Jelena also took to social media to express her gratitude to the player’s fans for their backing.
In Instagram and Twitter posts, Jelena Djokovic wrote: “Thank you dear people, all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband.
“I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening.
“The only law that we should all respect across every single border is Love and respect for another human being.
“Love and forgiveness is never a mistake but a powerful force. Wishing you all well!”
There was a small crowd outside the Park Hotel on Friday, where someone who gave her name only as Tatjana told the PA news agency the tennis player “doesn’t deserve to be in this refugee camp”.
Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 5, 2022
“I’m here to support Novak, to set him free, because I think he doesn’t deserve what the Australian government has done to him, and it’s not true when they said in the media that they treat everyone equally,” Tatjana said.
“I think Novak doesn’t deserve to be in this refugee camp and I don’t think you’ll see any other tennis player in this refugee camp.”
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who has been a fierce critic of Djokovic on many matters, weighed in on Twitter to call for his country to “do better” in its treatment of the nine-time Australian Open champion.
The world number 93 wrote: “Look I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mums health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad.
Look I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mums health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad. Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) January 7, 2022
“Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.”
Hours earlier, Djokovic’s father claimed the world number one has been made a scapegoat and “crucified” in the row.
In Belgrade, Srdjan Djokovic demonstrated outside the national assembly buildings and addressed a media conference to highlight what he perceived to be an injustice Down Under.
“He met all the required conditions for the entry and participation at the tournament that he would have certainly won, since it’s Novak, the best tennis player and sportsman in the world,” Srdjan Djokovic told a press conference on Thursday.
“Jesus was crucified and endured many things, but is still alive among us. Novak is also crucified… He will endure.”
Srdjan Djokovic had also said that his son was being singled out unfairly.
“Novak and his team filed the same documents as 25 other tennis players (who received exemptions) and they didn’t have any problems, just Novak,” Djokovic senior said in an interview broadcast by Sky News.
The Professional Tennis Players Association, an organisation founded by Djokovic and Canadian player Vasek Pospisil, issued a statement following contact with the world number one.
— Professional Tennis Players Association (@ptpaplayers) January 7, 2022
It read: “The PTPA has been in close contact with Mr Djokovic, his family and legal counsel, government officials and Australian Open leadership. Mr Djokovic has verified his well-being to us.
“He has also requested that we allow him to personally share the facts of his detainment in his own words, and in his own time.”
Home affairs minister Karen Andrews confirmed all other players with exemptions would be looked at closely.
“As people come into Australia, they need to have met our entry requirements as well as having a visa,” she told Channel 9 news.
“They stand the risk if they come in and don’t have the proper documentation, that they will be stopped at the border and will go through exactly the same process which is being played out now.
“He (Djokovic) hasn’t met the entry requirements – there is a lot of chatter about the visa, but that in my understanding is not the issue, it is the entry requirements… that he was not able to produce the evidence which was needed for entry into Australia.”
Australian Open organisers have been notably quiet since Djokovic’s detention and much of the focus now is on how there could have been such an apparent discrepancy between what players were told regarding exemptions and the stance of the border force.
It has caused a major diplomatic incident between Australia and Serbia, with Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic claiming Djokovic was the victim of “political persecution” by the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and others in the country’s government, calling on them to move him from the “horrific hotel” where he is being detained into a private rented house.
Andrews maintained Djokovic was not being detained under duress, telling ABC: “(He) is not being held captive in Australia. He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and border force will actually facilitate that.”
The Australian ambassador to Serbia, Daniel Emery, was summoned to the ministry of foreign affairs in Belgrade on Thursday where state secretary Nemanja Starovic called for his help in securing better accommodation for Djokovic.
A statement on mfa.gov.rs read: “Starovic emphasised that the Serbian public has a strong impression that Djokovic is the victim of a political game against his will and that he was lured to travel to Australia in order to be humiliated.”