Tennis Australia (TA) has broken its silence on the messy Novak Djokovic saga, labelling it a "distraction" and commending CEO Craig Tiley for his leadership in the face of criticism.
TA boss Tiley has faced a wave of backlash for his role in the fiasco, including calls for him to step down after initially giving Djokovic the green light to compete.
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Djokovic returned home to Serbia on Monday after being deported from Australia and denied the chance to play for a record-breaking 21st grand slam title in Melbourne.
The 11-day legal battle overshadowed the lead-up to the Australian Open as the World No.1 lost his fight to have his visa reinstated.
Public opinion over the saga has been widely divided with Serbia's President and Prime Minister echoing the sentiments of many of Djokovic's compatriots by insisting that he was treated like a criminal.
Many others have argued that the Serb only has himself to blame after refusing to get vaccinated and adhere to strict mandates imposed across Australia.
TA has, up until now, remained largely silent over the debacle after many critics took aim at the governing body for granting Djokovic a vaccination exemption in the first place.
The decision by two independent medical panels — appointed by TA and the Victorian government - to grant Djokovic a vaccine exemption to compete at Melbourne Park was ultimately overturned by Australian Border Force (ABF), who revoked the Serb's visa.
In a lengthy statement released by TA president Jayne Hrdlicka on Tuesday, the governing body said it respected the Immigration Minister's decision to revoke Djokovic's visa and the subsequent finding from the Federal Court on Sunday to send the World No.1 home.
Crucially, the TA statement also included mention of the board's backing of Tiley - something Aussie tennis great John Newcombe criticised them for failing to do earlier.
TA commends CEO Craig Tiley after messy saga
"We would like to make clear from the outset that we respect the decision of the Immigration Minister and the finding of the Federal Court of Australia over the weekend," the TA statement reads.
"Australian Open 2022 has now commenced, and our priority has always been to put on one of the world's greatest sporting events and ensure we are delivering the best possible experience for all our players, the fans, and the community. The Australian Open is a showcase of Melbourne and Australia and much loved by players from all over the world.
"Tennis Australia has been working closely with both the Federal and Victorian government for the past year to deliver a COVID safe Australian Open for the players, staff, and fans.
"Embarking on a major international sporting event during a global pandemic that continues to evolve and challenge us all, is profoundly demanding for all stakeholders.
"The board and Member Associations commend the Tennis Australia CEO and the entire Tennis Australia team for their hard work and dedication to delivering a spectacular summer of tennis.
"As the Australian tennis family, we recognise that recent events have been a significant distraction for everyone, and we deeply regret the impact this had on all players.
"There are always lessons to learn, and we will review all aspects of our preparation and implementation to inform our planning – as we do every year. That process always starts once the Australian Open champions have lifted their trophies.
"Australia has a strong and proud tennis tradition, and it has been fantastic to see the crowds out cheering for the world's best players in the lead up to and over the opening days of the Australian Open.
"We, like the players, and all tennis fans here and around the world, are keen for the focus to now be on the game we are all so passionate about.
"We are looking forward to a brilliant two weeks of tennis ahead."
Jim Courier says TA not to blame for Djokovic mess
TA's statement came after American tennis great Jim Courier insisted blame for the messy Djokovic debacle did not lie with Tiley or Australia's governing body.
“Tennis Australia did their job,” Courier told Channel 9 on Tuesday.
“Their job is to try and help the players gain entry to the tournament. Tennis Australia is not the government. They do not issue visas.
“They do not allow players to cross borders so I don’t know that you can lay this at the feet of Craig or Tennis Australia.
“Their job is to make this wonderful tournament thrive. Unless some underhanded things happened which we’re not aware of, which I highly doubt, knowing Craig and his integrity. I don’t think there is any more fault to be laid at the feet of Tennis Australia.”
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