Tennis Australia leaving Djokovic visa to gov’t

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic won’t get official support with lobbying from Tennis Australia should he seek to enter the country for the first major of 2023, a year after he was deported because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19.

The 21-time Grand Slam champion wasn’t allowed to defend his Australian Open title last January after a tumultuous 10-day legal saga that culminated with his visa being revoked on the eve of the tournament eventually won by Rafael Nadal.

Djokovic originally was granted an exemption to strict vaccination rules by two medical panels and Tennis Australia in order to play in the Australian Open but, after traveling to Melbourne believing he had all his paperwork in order, the exemption was rejected by the Australian Border Force.

“It is not a matter we can lobby on. It is a matter that definitely stays between the two of them,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Wednesday at a launch for the 2023 event, referring to Djokovic and the Australian government.

“And then, depending on the outcome,” Tiley added, “we would welcome him to the Australian Open.”

Being deported made Djokovic subject to a possible three-year exclusion period that prevents the granting of a further temporary visa, although the Australian Border Force in January said any exclusion period “will be considered as part of any new visa application and can be waived in certain circumstances.”

The ABF said each cased is assessed on its merits.

Australia has changed its border rules, and since July 6, incoming travelers no longer have to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Tiley was heavily criticized for his role in the confusion that led to the then top-ranked player in men’s tennis landing in Australia believing he was exempt from strict laws for unvaccinated travelers, then being questioned by border officials for hours at Melbourne Airport before being held in immigration detention.

The main source of confusion was the exemptions granted to Djokovic and some others by the state government and Tennis Australia to participate in the tournament — despite regulations requiring all fans, officials and players be vaccinated against COVID-19 — which ultimately still needed to be assessed by border security officials.

Djokovic was allowed to practice at Melbourne Park after some initial success in a court of law, but Australia Immigration Minister Alex Hawke ultimately used discretionary powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa on character grounds, stating he was a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment.”

A recent winner of tournaments in Israel and Kazakhstan, Djokovic can apply to new Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to reconsider his visa status.

Tiley, who is also the Tennis Australia chief executive, said he met with Djokovic in London last month during the Laver Cup and believes the Serbian star holds no bitterness about the saga.

But Tiley stressed that the pair spoke only generally about Djokovic’s visa situation.

“He said that he would obviously love to come back to Australia but he knows it’s going to be an ultimate decision for the federal government and he accepts that,” Tiley said. “If you notice, he is playing a lot of tennis at the end of the year in anticipation and hope there is a successful outcome with his application. But that is up to him.”

A review into episode that made global headlines has led to Tennis Australia outsourcing visa applications by players and their entourages to a company specializing in immigration matters.

Tiley said the Australian Open had no plans to follow the lead of Wimbledon, which banned Russian and Belarusian players from competing this year because of the invasion of Ukraine.

But there will be no reference to the nationality of those players, including 2022 Australian Open finalist Daniil Medvedev of Russia and two-time women’s singles champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, as per tour rules.

Tiley declined to discuss plans for a revamp of the Australian schedule that is expected to include a new mixed-teams tournament featuring 16 nations held across the country prior to the Australian Open.

Such a competition would have similarities to the long-running Hopman Cup, which was held in Perth for three decades prior to the introduction of the ATP Cup in 2020.

Tiley, who promised the return of elite tennis to Perth for the first time since the pandemic while in Western Australia last week, said a summer program will be outlined soon.

“We hope to have our major cities have a major event, a different event, a one of a kind,” he said. “We will make that announcement when we are ready to make that announcement.”

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