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No way back for Novak

China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-17 09:24
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Novak Djokovic wipes sweat from his brow during a practice session on Thursday at Melbourne Park, where the world No 1 was hoping to defend his Australian Open title. The Serbian will now miss the tournament after losing his legal fight to remain in the country. AFP

Novak Djokovic was deported instead of starting his Australian Open title defense on Monday, a stunning and unprecedented end to his run of success at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic has won nine of his 20 Grand Slam trophies at the Australian Open-including three in a row-and was scheduled to play in the main stadium at night on Day 1 of the tournament.

But the No 1-ranked player in men's tennis was forced to leave the country after three federal court judges decided unanimously Sunday to uphold the immigration minister's right to cancel Djokovic's visa.

The 34-year-old from Serbia was trying to use a medical exemption to get around the requirements that everyone at the Australian Open-players, their support teams, spectators and others-be inoculated against COVID-19.

Djokovic is not vaccinated, and the government said his presence could stir up anti-vaccine sentiments.

The No 1-ranked player in men's tennis released a statement expressing disappointment with the ruling, but said he respected the court's decision, would cooperate with the authorities "in relation to my departure from the country", and that he planned to take time out "to rest and to recuperate".

"I am extremely disappointed with the court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the minister's decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open," his statement said.

"I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love. Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me."

The governing body of the men's game, the ATP, issued a statement expressing regret over the visa saga but stating that Djokovic remains one of the sport's "greatest champions".

Fans voice support for Novak Djokovic last week outside the Melbourne immigration hotel where the Serbian was detained. AP

"Today's decision to uphold Novak Djokovic's Australian visa cancellation marks the end of a deeply regrettable series of events," read the ATP statement.

"Ultimately, decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected."

On Monday, Djokovic was supposed to play another man from Serbia, Miomir Kecmanovic, in the first round of the season's opening Grand Slam tournament. Instead, Kecmanovic will face a so-called "lucky loser"-someone who loses in qualifying rounds but gets access to the main draw because someone else withdraws after the order of play for Day 1 was released.

About 90 minutes after the verdict in Djokovic's challenge was delivered, tournament organizers announced that Salvatore Caruso, an Italian ranked No 150, had replaced Djokovic in the draw and that the match had been moved to a smaller court in the day session.

Third-seeded Alexander Zverev's opener against Daniel Altmaier was moved onto Rod Laver Arena.

Patrick Mouratoglou, an elite coach who has worked with Serena Williams, said the "biggest loser of this mess is the tournament".

Djokovic's visa originally was canceled after he arrived in Melbourne on Jan 5, but that decision was overturned by a judge on procedural grounds last Monday. He spent four nights in immigration detention before the first court hearing and was confined to an immigration hotel again on Saturday while awaiting his legal challenge.

When Djokovic's visa was initially canceled, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that "rules are rules". Late Sunday he issued a statement saying he welcomed the decision "to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe".


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