Organizers of the Australian Open on Tuesday officially granted Novak Djokovic the top seed at the tournament, which begins next Monday, even as the country’s Immigration Ministry threatens to abruptly deport him for not consuming a Chinese coronavirus vaccine product.
Djokovic has been the focal point of Australian pandemic politics for weeks as tournament organizers weighed the possibility that the player – the top ranked Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) player and tied for winningest Grand Slam competitor in history – would not be allowed to enter the country. Djokovic announced last week that he had received a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccine product mandate and flew to Melbourne, where Border Force authorities immediately arrested him and tossed him into a migrant detention facility.
The Djokovic travel saga has prompted international protests, culminating with a violent encounter between Melbourne police and Serbian Djokovic fans on Monday night after a judge ordered Djokovic’s immediate release.
The Australian Immigration Ministry has released multiple statements warning that top minister Alex Hawke could still exercise his personal power to override the court decision allowing Djokovic to stay in the country and deport him.
Tennis Australia, the organization that manages the Australian Open, published its list of rankings on Tuesday, showing Djokovic officially as the top player.
“Daniil Medvedev, who beat Djokovic in the US Open final last year to prevent the Serbian player from capturing a calendar-year Grand Slam, is seeded second, followed by Alexander Zverev at No. 3, Stefanos Tsitsipas at No. 4 and Andrey Rublev at No. 5,” ESPN noted.
Sixth on the list is Rafael Nadal, one of two men tied with Djokovic for winning the most Grand Slams of any male player. Nadal initially criticized Djokovic for refusing to receive a coronavirus vaccine product, but wished him luck in the tournament after his legal win on Monday, joking that, “on a personal level, I’d much rather he didn’t play.” The men have a years-long rivalry that Nadal has been frank about, openly rooting for other players to defeat Djokovic to secure his own rankings in the game.
The decision to list Djokovic as the top seed in the Australian Open as the federal government threatens to deport him is a bold one that echoes the tournament’s prior decision to advertise the event last month by promising that Djokovic would be there.
“Defending champion Djokovic will play for an incredible 10th Australian Open trophy — and a men’s record 21st major singles title — and will be the favourite in a draw which showcases 49 of the world’s top 50 including world No.2 Daniil Medvedev, who beat top-ranked Djokovic in this year’s US Open final,” an Australian Open press release read in December, published amid conflicting reports that Prime Minister Scott Morrison would block Djokovic from entering the country.
While the Australian court system rebuked the federal government for detaining Djokovic without giving him sufficient time to understand why his documents appearing to show a medical exemption to the vaccine product requirement were insufficient, the Immigration Ministry asserted several times — most recently on Monday — that it could remove Djokovic from the country at any time.
“Minister Hawke is considering whether to cancel Mr. Djokovic’s visa under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act,” the Ministry warned. “In line with due process, Minister Hawke will thoroughly consider the matter.”
“As the issue is ongoing, for legal reasons it is inappropriate to comment further,” the statement concluded.
Deporting Djokovic following his legal saga would likely become an even worse public relations disaster for Australia following the court ruling and Djokovic’s presence at the tournament. Djokovic himself posted photos from Rod Laver Arena, the central court at the tournament, indicating that he was already training there immediately after his release.
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
The images would suggest that Australian officials, if they do deport him, granted him enough of a false sense of security to play in the tournament.
Video of Djokovic actually training on the Australian Open grounds surfaced in national media there. According to the Serbian pro-Djokovic magazine Telegraf, Djokovic himself decided not to publish images of his training other than the photo on his social media accounts, but apparently Australian journalists invaded the training session with a drone camera.
Drones captured some shots of Novak Djokovic, who has been training at Melbourne Park ahead of the Australian Open 📸 pic.twitter.com/BsaDOGuDDZ
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) January 11, 2022
JUST IN: Novak Djokovic hitting on Rod Laver Arena #AusOpen @wwos @9NewsAUS pic.twitter.com/dglLUnjfmE
— Clint Stanaway (@cstanaway) January 11, 2022
Australian officials are already dealing with significant civil unrest in Melbourne, where the tournament is held, in response to Djokovic’s initial detention. The areas outside the migrant facility formerly housing Djokovic and the offices of his legal team became scenes of chaos last week as large numbers of fans, many of them Serbian, convened and called for his release. Outraging the crowd, Australian police blocked an Orthodox priest from visiting Djokovic in detention on Friday, which marked the Orthodox celebration of Christmas. The priest held a liturgy outside that many protesters participated in.
On Monday evening, the crowd moved towards the offices of Djokovic’s legal team, where violence ensued after Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, claimed that Australian police had detained his son a second time. A crowd surrounded a vehicle they thought was holding Djokovic and began jumping on it and banging on its windows (reports have yet to confirm if Djokovic was, in fact, in the vehicle). Police used pepper spray on the crowd, prompting wild scenes in which at least one protester reportedly snatched a tear gas canister out of the hands of a police officer.
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