Novak Djokovic debacle: Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison leaves door open for Australia Open return next year
Novak Djokovic has visa to enter Australia cancelled for a second time and is deported; trouble entering Australia centred around his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19; the tournament started on Monday in Melbourne; the Serb is level on 20 Grand Slam titles with Federer, Nadal
Last Updated: 17/01/22 5:19pm
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has left the door open for Novak Djokovic to compete at next year's Australian Open despite the Serb facing an automatic three-year ban from entering the country.
The world No 1 left Australia late on Sunday - arriving back to Serbia on Monday a little after 11.30am GMT - after the Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa, capping days of drama over the country's COVID-19 entry rules and his unvaccinated status.
Under immigration law, Djokovic cannot be granted another visa for three years unless Australia's immigration minister accepts there are compelling or compassionate reasons.
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"I'm not going to precondition any of that or say anything that would not enable the minister to make the various calls he has to make," Morrison told 2GB radio on Monday as Djokovic was en route to Dubai.
"It does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for [a person] to return in the right circumstances, and that will be considered at the time."
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge Federal Court bench dealt a final blow to Djokovic's hopes of chasing a record 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, which started on Monday, dismaying his family and supporters.
"If you're someone coming from overseas, and there are conditions for you to enter this country, then you have to comply with them," Morrison added.
"This is about someone who sought to come to Australia and not comply with the entry rules at our border.".
Meanwhile, French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu said on Sunday that sportspeople will need to be vaccinated to compete in the country, putting a question mark over Djokovic's participation in this year's French Open too.
This represents a U-turn by Maracineanu who earlier in the week had defended the idea of bubbles for unvaccinated athletes, with the French parliament passing stricter restrictions regarding Covid-19.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also insisted on Monday that "any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain".
During the same press conference German Chancellor Olaf Scholz added that "we all have to abide by them (rules), no matter who we are".
People are currently required to hold either a vaccine certificate, a negative PCR test or a certificate proving recovery from COVID in order to enter Spain. Djokovic notably owns a house in Marbella and travels to the country regularly.
In a rollercoaster saga in Australia, the world's top men's player was first detained by immigration authorities on January 6, ordered to be released by a court on January 10 and then detained again on Saturday pending Sunday's court hearing.
Djokovic, 34, said he was extremely disappointed by the ruling but he respected the court's decision.
"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 the tournament I love," Djokovic said in a statement before flying out of Melbourne.
The player was filmed by Reuters wearing a mask and taking selfies with fans at the arrival gate in Dubai as he waited for his entourage to follow him off the plane.
Djokovic was escorted by airline staff on a terminal buggy to the departure gate for a flight a few hours later to Belgrade, where he checked in alone, landing in Serbia a little after 11.30am GMT.
One of the player's sponsors, Lacoste, released a statement on Monday saying they wish to speak to Djokovic after his deportation from Australia.
"As soon as possible, we will be in touch with Novak Djokovic to review the events that have accompanied his presence in Australia," Lacoste's statement read.
"We wish everyone an excellent tournament and thank the organisers for all their efforts to ensure that the tournament is held in good conditions for players, staff and spectators."
The debacle has caused a row between Canberra and Belgrade, with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic calling the court decision "scandalous".
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that she and Morrison had been in touch with Brnabic during the legal process last week.
"I am absolutely confident that the very positive relationship, bilateral relationship between Australia and Serbia will continue on the strong footing that it currently enjoys," Payne told reporters.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had said Djokovic could be a threat to public order because his presence would encourage anti-vaccination sentiment amidst Australia's worst coronavirus outbreak.
The Federal Court judges noted their ruling was based on the lawfulness and legality of the minister's decision, but did not address "the merits or wisdom" of the decision. They have yet to release the full reasoning behind their decision.
Other players react: 'The situation has been a mess.'
The men's tennis governing body ATP said the decision "marks the end of a deeply regrettable series of events", adding it respected the decision, a comment echoed by Tennis Australia.
On the tennis circuit, fellow players have become impatient for the media circus to end.
"The situation has not been good all round for anyone. It feels everything here happened extremely last minute and that's why it became such a mess," said former world No 1 Andy Murray.
At at a press conference on Monday, Rafa Nadal said: "I am quite tired of that. I will never be against what the justice system says. If Novak Djokovic is playing here, it's better for tennis.
"The situation has been a mess.
"I always had a big respect and a very good relationship with my rivals, no? In my opinion, I believe the life is much better when you have a good relationship with everybody, especially in the locker room.
"That's my philosophy. With Novak, haven't been an exception. We always had a great relationship. Honestly I wish him all the best. He's not the only one that did probably things bad in that case.
"Of course, there is more responsibility on all this terrible situation that we faced for the last two weeks. But of course he is one of those responsible, too.
"So on a personal level, yes, I would like to see him playing here. If it is fair or not that he's playing here is another discussion that I don't want to talk anymore about."
Gael Monfils and Noami Osaka have preferred not to answer.
"To be honest, I just think about the tournament now," Monfils said.
"Is my opinion going to help anything?" Osaka said. "Yeah, I'll kind of pass on that. Thanks, though."
Ukrainian player Sergiy Stakhovsky called the events "a very sad day in the history of tennis".
American John Isner sympathised with Djokovic, saying on Twitter: "Nole always has and always will be class. He's an absolute legend in my book that has brought so much good to millions around the world. This isn't right."
Djokovic has received support from his compatriots, with Laslo Djere saying the saga would change opinions of Australia around the world while Dusan Lajovic labelled the treatment of the world number one "terribly wrong".
Djere said: "I think the whole world saw it and they probably will have a new or different opinion about Australia. I mean, the guy had the exemption and they still deported him. Something went horribly wrong. It was a true catastrophic situation.
"He's a great guy and always tries to help others and won the tournament nine times. Yet most of the Australian people wanted that he leaves.
"That's also in our Serbian mentality [to respond to adversity]. When we get beat down or we are treated in a bad way or how we maybe don't deserve, we just try, especially him, to be inspired by that and gain strength from that. I'm sure that he will come back stronger than ever."
Lajovic added: "I think the way they treated him was terribly wrong. I think the decision itself was terribly wrong and also the reason why they did it is for me terribly wrong because, based on just an idea, I don't think it's the right way.
"I saw that some of the guys did support him. Many from the top did not but maybe, from their point of view, they know that Novak is one of the favourites for the title, so for them they have one obstacle less in this case."