By Mark Staniforth, PA
Novak Djokovic’s defence of his Australian Open title remains in doubt after reports emerged that the world number one might have given misleading information to Australian immigration officials.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is still considering whether to cancel Djokovic’s visa despite his court victory on Monday, which enabled the 34-year-old to leave his quarantine hotel and resume training in Melbourne.
Australian media reported that officials are concerned about Djokovic’s claim on his entry form that he had not travelled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia on January 6th.
Social media posts have appeared to make clear that Djokovic attended events in Belgrade and Marbella during the period in question. Djokovic has reportedly claimed that Tennis Australia filled in the form on his behalf.
In addition, there remain separate questions over Djokovic’s confirmed positive test on December 16 and his subsequent meeting with children at a public event in Belgrade the next day, which would have broken Serbia’s own 14-day quarantine rules following a positive test.
Amid the continued confusion, Djokovic’s former coach Boris Becker has warned he risks the wrath of the Australian Open crowd if his quest for a record 21st grand slam title is ultimately allowed to continue.
While Serbian fans celebrated outside the court-house on Monday, many Australians, who have endured months of hard lockdowns, remain angry at the current decision to allow the unvaccinated Djokovic to enter the country.
Becker, who coached Djokovic for three seasons from 2014 to 2016, told the BBC: “I’m sure there will be a couple of boos and whistles, but he’s used to that.
“He was always a street-fighter who had to fight the odds and win over the crowd, and it was fascinating in last year’s US Open final when they finally embraced him.
“The crowd will be difficult with him but with each match he starts, he will win the crowd and they will embrace him again. But he is going to have a difficult first week.”
Whilst expressing his full support for Djokovic’s stance, Becker admitted he was concerned at the prospect of similar problems in the future, and reiterated his belief that the world number one should accept a vaccine.
“I’m sure the French Open and Wimbledon will be watching the Melbourne saga, and I’m sure they will have strict rules on who can play and who cannot play,” Becker added.
“It’s everybody’s choice but life is more difficult if you don’t want to be vaccinated. Personally I’d advise him to be vaccinated eventually because life would be easier for him, but ultimately it’s his choice and we have to respect that.”
A number of fellow players have expressed concerns over Djokovic’s potential exemption, although Rafael Nadal offered belated support for the decision on Monday, having previously intimated it was wrong for his great rival to seek to enter Australia.
Wimbledon quarter-finalist Marton Fucsovics provided a glimpse of the mood in the locker room by saying he does not think the Serbian had the right to play in the tournament.
Speaking to the Hungarian outlet M4Sport, Fucsovics said: “People’s health is paramount, and there are rules that were outlined months ago, namely that everyone should vaccinate themselves – and Djokovic didn’t.
I’m pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened,I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen
I remain focused on that. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans. 👇 pic.twitter.com/iJVbMfQ037
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 10, 2022
“From this point of view, I don’t think he would have the right to be here.”
The Hungarian world number 38, who lost to Djokovic in last year’s Wimbledon quarter-finals and in the Paris Masters in November, also said he was not alone in thinking it unfair that Djokovic could play in the gram slam event despite not being vaccinated.
The 29-year-old said news of the world number one’s exemption had received a negative reception among many tennis players.
Novak Djokovic and Benfica’s handball player (the best, btw) Petar Djordjic in Belgrade today. pic.twitter.com/U7lti3xjcQ
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) December 25, 2021
Meanwhile, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has spoken with his Serbian counterpart about Djokovic’s situation and explained Australia’s “non-discriminatory border policy”.
“The PM had a constructive call with PM Brnabic this morning on Novak Djokovic,” a statement from the Australian Prime Minister’s Office read.
“The PM explained our non-discriminatory border policy and its role in protecting Australia during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“They both agreed to stay in contact on the issue, and to further strengthening the bilateral relationship.”
And did Novak have a medical exemption ? If so - has the person who gave it to him been identified ? What was that exemption ? Just trying to get the facts as I’m embarrassed as a Victorian at this situation. Vic Govt are quiet ? Can someone explain to us in plain Eng please 👍
— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) January 11, 2022
Former Australia cricketer Shane Warne branded his country’s handling of the affair as a “shambles” but insisted it was their right to refuse entry.
Warne told the BBC: “It just seems an absolute, embarrassing mess.
“Novak is well entitled not to be jabbed or to be jabbed, but it is also Australia’s choice to not let him in or to let him in.
“I don’t know what’s actually going on here. It’s a shambles and a bit embarrassing.”