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Novak Djokovic's seemingly never-ending Australian Open saga has taken a stunning new twist after the 20-time grand slam champion was left stranded at Melbourne airport overnight, due to a visa mix-up that could derail his hopes of defending his title.
The extraordinary, escalating soap opera surrounding the world's best men's player took a new turn on Wednesday night when he flew straight into a political storm and a visa controversy on arrival into Tullamarine Airport after a 14-hour flight from Dubai.
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The nine-time Open champion may have been armed with the vaccination exemption that will allow him to compete in Melbourne but apparently not with the correct visa to enter the country.
Djokovic touched down in Melbourne on Wednesday but the mix-up saw him whisked away to a room under police guard, while officials tried to clear up his situation.
The 34-year-old's father Srdjan told the Serbian B92 internet portal: "Novak is currently in a room which no one can enter. In front of the room are two policemen."
Djokovic was still awaiting permission to enter the country with his team reportedly having applied for a visa that does not allow for medical exemptions.
The 34-year-old, never a stranger to controversy, has found himself the subject of a major public backlash in Australia after revealing on Tuesday that he'd received the vaccination exemption which allowed him to bid for a record 21st major title.
But amid the storm, tournament director and Tennis Australia (TA) boss Craig Tiley insisted the world No.1 was getting no special treatment and Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the player "would be on the next plane home" if he could not provide the proper evidence for his exemption.
But Djokovic was embroiled in entry problems as Victoria's Sports Minister Jaala Pulford confirmed the state government did not support his visa application, effectively putting his fate in the hands of the federal government.
The Age newspaper said the federal Border Force had contacted the Victoria state government asking if it would support his application after his team applied for the wrong kind of visa.
Pulford said in a tweet: "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."
It was not clear whether the federal government would allow his entry and the Border Force could not be reached for comment.
Novak Djokovic urged to explain situation
The stunning development came amid growing calls for Djokovic to reveal the reasons why he was granted an exemption in the first place, with Pulford and Tiley among those to suggest he owes that much to the Australian public.
Toni Nadal, the uncle and long-time former coach of Djokovic's great rival Rafael Nadal, also urged the Serb to clarify his situation.
Writing in his newspaper column in El Pais, Nadal said: "There are almost six million people who have lost their lives due to this damn virus and many other millions who have received the vaccine.
"I want to think that Novak is no stranger to all this and that he will clear up the doubts as a sign of human sensitivity and understanding."
Even the great Rod Laver, fearing that Djokovic's participation on the court named after him at Melbourne Park could see passions running high, wants answers from the nine-time champ.
"I think it might get ugly. I'd think the Victorian people would be thinking, 'Yes I'd love to see him play and compete but at the same time, there's a right way and a wrong way'.
"If he's got a reason for (the exemption) then ... we should know it."
Australia's world No.1 Ash Barty said: ""I think it's a tough one. As we've seen a little bit in the last day or so, from the Australian public, I know how hard it has been for Australians... but in particular Victorians have had a real rough trot over the last 18 months and two years.
"I understand why they may be frustrated with the decision. Ultimately, I have no interest in speaking about Novak's medical history. It's not my decision. Those decisions are made. They're completely out of my control."
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