World number one Novak Djokovic spent Orthodox Christmas in Australian immigration detention on Friday as his lawyers fight a government decision to remove him from the country that could scupper his shot at a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam.
As the row escalated, officials said two other players who entered the country under the same exemption granted to Djokovic were under investi-gation.
Border officials detained Djokovic at Mel-bourne’s airport when he arrived on Wednesday evening and revoked the visa he had been granted on the basis of a medical exemption from Australia’s strict Covid-19 vaccination requirements.
The initial decision to grant entry to Djokovic was met with outrage in Australia, a country with an adult vaccination rate of more than 90 per cent that is battling its worst surge in infections since the pandemic began.
The Australian government pushed back on Friday against suggestions by Serbian supporters, including Djokovic’s family, that the star player was effectively a prisoner, stressing he is free to leave the country at any time.
“Mr Djokovic is not being held captive in Aus-tralia, he is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told reporters.
Djokovic’s lawyers successfully scrambled for urgent legal approval for him to remain in the coun-try until a full court hearing in his case against the federal government on Monday.
The public hearing is expected to reveal more details about the exemption granted to Djokovic and the documentation he provided to immigration offi-cials at the border to support it.
The 34-year-old has not revealed the grounds for the exemption and has consistently refused to disclose his vaccination status, while publicly criti-cising mandatory vaccines.
As he was confined for a second day to his room in the modest Park Hotel, where several Afghan immigration detainees have been held for months, Djokovic’s plight was met with a mixed response from his rivals in elite tennis.
Former World No 1 and two-time Australian Open champion Boris Becker said Djokovic was “making a big mistake” with his anti-vaccination stance.
“It is one that threatens what remains of his ca-reer and his chance to cement himself as the greatest player of all time,” Becker wrote in an opinion piece in The Daily Mail newspaper.—Agencies