NOVAK DJOKOVIC has landed in Australia but been denied entry over a bungled visa application.
The Serb was controversially handed a medical exemption from Australian Open rules stating that participating players must be vaccinated.
The world No1 took to social media to tell fans of his travel plans
After weeks of speculation, he confirmed yesterday that he would be playing the Australian Open and that he was heading to Melbourne.
But, having landed in Australia, he now faces being sent home after a member of his team made a mistake in requesting a sub-class of visa that does NOT apply to travellers with Covid-19 vaccine exemptions.
The Aussie border force spotted the mistake while Djokovic was on his 14-hour flight from Dubai.
But a last minute attempt to correct the error was rejected by the Victorian state government.
State government minister Jaala Pulford tweeted: “The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic’s visa application to enter Australia.
“We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
“We’ve always been clear on two points: visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government, and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors.”
Others in a similar situation to Djokovic in the past have been detained at the airport before being sent back to their departure point.
Aussie PM Scott Morrison has confirmed that the 34-year-old ‘could be on the next plane home’.
He said: “If he is not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travellers.
“We await his presentation and what evidence he provides us to support that.
“If medical exemptions have been provided by medical professionals and that has been furnished to him as a proviso for him to get on that plane, well, that will have to stack up when he arrives in Australia.
“There should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever.”
Djokovic is currently awaiting further updates, having touched down in Australia.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the 20-time Grand Slam winner was being questioned by border officials at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport until around 1:15am local time – more than two hours after his plane landed.
Djokovic has expressed anti-vax beliefs in the past, but has at no point confirmed his Covid-19 vaccination status.
The Australian Open itself has denied giving Djokovic preferential treatment.
WILL HE OR WON’T HE
Doubts over his defence of the first Grand Slam of the year had increased when tournament chiefs confirmed players would need to be vaccinated.
And his unexplained late withdrawal from the ATP Cup in Sydney further suggested he would not be competing in Australia.
However, Australian Open chief Craig Tiley – who previously stated Djokovic ‘knows he has to be vaccinated in order to play’ – revealed this week that some unvaccinated players have been granted special exemptions allowing them to play.
The nine-time champ – including in 2019, 2020 and 2021 – wrote on social media yesterday: “Happy New Year, everybody! Wishing you all health, love, and happiness in every present moment and may you feel love and respect towards all beings on this wonderful planet.
“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!!”
He added a photo of himself with his tennis bag packed at an airport, ready to set off for the journey.
The decision quickly sparked plenty of furious reactions among tennis fans and Victoria state residents, especially with the strict lockdown rules in Melbourne for much of the last two years.
Last month, Deputy Premier James Merlino confirmed ‘medical exemptions are just that – it’s not a loophole for privileged tennis players’.
Merlino added: “It is a medical exemption in exceptional circumstances if you have an acute medical condition.
“The expectation of all Victorians is that everyone who attends the Open – player, spectator, staff, officials – everyone is fully vaccinated.”
It remains unclear why and how Djokovic was given the pass.
A Tennis Australia statement had said: “Novak Djokovic will compete at the Australian Open and is on his way to Australia.
“Djokovic applied for a medical exemption which was granted following a rigorous review process involving two separate independent panels of medical experts.”
Tiley confirmed earlier this week the reasons will remain confidential throughout the process, trying to put to bed suggestions Djokovic’s status as the world’s best player influenced the decision.
He said: “There are two medical panels that assess any application, and they assess it in a blind way. They don’t know who the applicant is.
“Against the guidelines, an exemption gets granted or not. The reason for granting the exemption remains private, between the panel and the applicant.
“We know of athletes that have applied for an exemption and in cases, it’s been granted.”
British doubles hero Jamie Murray questioned the legitimacy of the exemption.
Speaking at the ATP Cup, he said: “I think if it was me that wasn’t vaccinated I wouldn’t be getting an exemption.”
The Australian Open gets underway on January 17.
Should Djokovic successfully enter the Aussie Open and go all the way, he will overtake Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on to a record-breaking 21 singles majors.
Nadal, fit again after a foot injury and Covid, is already in Melbourne and has been practising with five-time runner-up Andy Murray.
Federer is absent, though, as he continues his recovery from knee surgery.
Djokovic, 34, is defending champion at Melbourne ParkCredit: AFP