Novak Djokovic has broken his silence in Australia to thank supporters after the country’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said he is “free to leave any time” and is not being detained.
The 34-year-old is being held in isolation at the Park Hotel in Carlton, Melbourne, awaiting the outcome of an appeal against the decision by the Australian Border Force (ABF) to cancel the reigning Australian Open champion’s entry visa and deport him. The appeal is set to be heard on Monday.
On Friday, Djokovic broke his silence as he wrote: “Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated,” as part of an Instagram story.
He added in Serbian: “Thank you to my family, Serbia and all good people across the world who are sending me support. Thanks to dear God for health.”
Earlier, the ABF also cancelled Czech tennis player Renata Voracova’s visa before the Australian Open, and detained her in the same immigration hotel as Djokovic.
Voracova was informed by ABF officials that she had to leave the country and the Czech Foreign Ministry later confirmed she would be dropping out of the tournament.
“Renata Voracova decided to drop out of the tournament due to limited possibilities for training and to leave Australia,” a statement read on Friday.
Doubles specialist Voracova played in Melbourne earlier this week but has since been detained by Border Force officials as authorities reassessed the entrance documents of two people following the drama involving Djokovic.
Djokovic has never revealed whether he is vaccinated against Covid-19, but has criticized mandates ruling that players must be double-jabbed, and posted on social media before setting off to say he had received “exemption permission”.
Australia Home Affairs Minister Andrews maintained Djokovic was not being detained under any duress in the country, however, as he waits in quarantine for his appeal against visa cancellation to be heard.
“Mr Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia,” she told ABC.
“He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that.
“We treat all people who are in immigration detention fairly, equitably.”
She added: “A visa was granted for entry, but that does not guarantee entry.
“He (Djokovic), along with any other individual who is seeking to enter Australia, also has to meet the entry requirements which at this point includes medical evidence of vaccination or alternatively medical reasons why that individual cannot be vaccinated.
“He hasn’t met the entry requirements – there is a lot of chatter about the visa, but that in my understanding is not the issue, it is the entry requirements…that he was not able to produce the evidence which was needed for entry into Australia.”
Parents: They’re crucifying him
On Thursday, Djokovic’s father demonstrated outside the National Assembly buildings, and said of his son: “He met all the required conditions for the entry and participation at the tournament that he would have certainly won, since it’s Novak, the best tennis player and sportsman in the world.”
Srdjan Djokovic added: “Jesus was crucified and endured many things, but is still alive among us. Novak is also crucified… he will endure.”
The family also held an emotional news conference at his restaurant in central Belgrade, with his nine previous Australian Open trophies on display.
“They are keeping him in captivity. They are stomping all over Novak to stomp all over Serbia and the Serbian people,” his father Srdjan added, who also told local media his son was “the Spartacus of the new world”.
He also said the visa issue was “nothing to do with sport, it is a political agenda”.
His mother, Dijana, added: “They are keeping him as a prisoner, that’s not human and it’s not fair.
“This is a political attack on Novak Djokovic…he is a scapegoat.”
Outside the Melbourne hotel in which Djokovic is quarantining, Serbian supporters continue to gather and say they will keep doing so until he is released.
Djokovic’s wife Jelena has expressed her gratitude to the player’s fans for “using your voice to send love to my husband.”
In Instagram and Twitter posts marking Christmas in Serbia, Jelena Djokovic wrote: “Thank you dear people, all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband.
“I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening.
“The only law that we should all respect across every single border is Love and respect for another human being.
“Love and forgiveness is never a mistake but a powerful force. Wishing you all well!”
Becker: Djokovic making ‘big mistake’ not getting vaccinated
Novak Djokovic is making a “big mistake” if he is not getting vaccinated against Covid-19, according to his former coach Boris Becker.
Becker – himself a former world No 1 and twice Australian Open champion, as well as winning three Wimbledon singles titles – enjoyed a successful three-year partnership with Djokovic, which included six Grand Slam victories.
The 54-year-old maintains a close relationship with the Serb, but feels their views on how to best protect against coronavirus are very different.
“On this occasion, I think he is making a big mistake in not getting vaccinated,” Becker said in the Daily Mail. “It is one that threatens what remains of his career and his chance to cement himself as the greatest player of all time.
“Four times I sat in his box as he won the Australian Open, so I am fully aware of his great strengths as an incredible competitor. I also think he has a great character that can easily be misunderstood.
“Yet these strengths can also be weaknesses. The same incredible determination which I saw win so many close matches can be a vulnerability with his stubbornness.”
Becker feels if Djokovic does maintain his vaccine hesitancy, it could present more hurdles within his professional tennis career.
“He is incredibly strong-willed, with very firm beliefs. If he does not, then in 10 years he will look back on it and realize he made a mistake,” Becker said.
“It is not just about Australia. The fact is that we are living in a different world and he is going to find it very hard to live the life of a professional tennis player travelling around without the vaccination.
“Those are the rules, whether one likes them or not.”
Nadal: Djokovic knew the risks
Rafael Nadal criticized Djokovic for “not following the rules”, saying: “If he wanted, he would be playing without a problem.
“He has taken his own position and everybody is free to take their position. But there are consequences. I don’t like the situation. In some ways, I feel sorry for him.
“But he knew the conditions months ago. He made his own decision.”
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has since weighed in on Twitter to call for his country to “do better” in its treatment of Djokovic.
The world number 93 wrote: “Look I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mum’s health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad.
“Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.”
Djokovic’s Aussie Open debacle: What’s happened?
Djokovic flew to Australia with a ‘vaccine exemption’ and arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday, but was ultimately denied entry into the country after nine hours at the airport.
The Serb’s visa was one which did not allow for medical exemptions and was cancelled, after which he was moved to hotel quarantine as his team launched an appeal – this appeal has been adjourned until Monday.