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Serbia's president has led the public outcry against the treatment of Novak Djokovic after the World No.1 had his visa cancelled for a second time, in a move that leaves his Australian Open hopes hanging by a thread.
Australia’s immigration minister Alex Hawke on Friday evening used his ministerial discretion to cancel the 34-year-old’s visa on public interest grounds — only three days before play begins at the Australian Open.
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The world's top-ranked tennis player was required to surrender to officials in Melbourne for an interview at 8am on Saturday, according to a court order issued on Friday night.
Border Force officers were due to accompany the 34-year-old player to his lawyer's offices for an online hearing in the Federal Court later in the morning, ahead of the appeal scheduled for Sunday.
Djokovic is the defending champion at the year's first grand slam tournament and has won a record nine of his 20 major titles at Melbourne Park.
News of Djokovic's latest visa blow has sent shockwaves around the world, with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accusing the Australian government of “harassing” and “maltreating” the World No.1.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic later accused the Australian government of “harassing” and “maltreating” Djokovic and asked whether it is just trying to score political points ahead of upcoming elections.
Djokovic’s lawyers appealed against the latest decision at a court in Melbourne. They successfully did something similar last week on procedural grounds after his visa was first cancelled when he landed in Melbourne and spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel.
Djokovic initially refused to say if he had been vaccinated against the coronavirus, but he got an exemption from Australia’s strict Covid-19 vaccination regulations to enter the country the first time. He said this week he is unvaccinated.
If deported, Djokovic is likely to return to Serbia, where his saga has captivated the public and where he has an almost iconic status and overwhelming support.
“Why didn’t you return him back right away, or tell him it was impossible to get a visa?" Vucic asked the Australian authorities in a social media address. “Why are you harassing him and why are you maltreating not only him, but his family and an entire nation that is free and proud.
"Do you need to win some elections?" Vucic added. “Novak, we are with you."
Solidarity with Djokovic is widespread in the Balkan country.
“I am revolted. I am angry because I did not expect that they would treat the world’s best tennis player like this,” Belgrade resident Mila Aleksic told reporters.
“I think he did not deserve this, especially since he is representing our country and he is the No. 1 tennis player and the whole world knows him as such. I think he did not deserve being treated this way.”
Djokovic’s former coach and mentor, Niki Pilic, described the situation as “shameful” and said Djokovic was being treated like a “criminal.”
“People do not understand what it means to be a world champion, what kind of strength, will and morale is needed,” Pilic said.
“It’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t play the Australian Open... he will play at other tournaments.”
Nebojsa Covic, a former politician and now the owner of the Red Star Belgrade basketball club, said the controversy has made Djokovic “a symbol of the free world” no matter what happens.
“He is a global star, a beacon of free men. Basic human rights are being violated,” Covic told Prva TV. “Djokovic is the moral winner of the tournament in Australia.”
Novak Djokovic saga leaves world divided
While support for the Serb is overwhelming in his homeland, the saga has divided the world with many critics insisting he only has himself to blame.
Tennis icon Martina Navratilova claimed the best thing for Djokovic would be to 'go home' after his latest statement caused uproar within the wider community.
The furore surrounding Djokovic's actions intensified after the 34-year-old admitted he conducted an interview with French magazine L'Equipe on the 18th of December after finding out he was positive with coronavirus on the 17th.
"It's such a combination of mistakes on everyone's part," Navratilova said on Seven's Sunrise.
"The bottom line is, sometimes your personal beliefs have to be trumped for the greater good, for those around you, for your peers."
Navratilova added if she was in the same position she would either: "get vaccinated, or don't go play", before she added it: "just doesn't add up."
The tennis great's sentiment is widely shared on social media, with many users demanding that Djokovic either adhere to Australia's rules or go home.
Unbelievable! Any sport is far greater than any player. Djokovic is suffering from visions of grandeur. The world is in a pandemic and he has flaunted the rules. Time to go home to Monte Carlo!
— Peter Chambers (@Wombatfinance) January 14, 2022
Hey @DjokerNole just go home. We dont need an arrogant selfish unvaccinated tennis player "infecting" all of the vaccinated players & spectators.
Ur nothing special. Ur just a clown trying to get around our laws.
We dont want u. We dont need u. GO HOME 😡😡😡😡 https://t.co/1ba0SFUitZ
— PJ (@im_fabulous_69) January 14, 2022
— Marié Fehmarn (@MarieFehmarn) January 14, 2022
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