A small group of protesters supporting Novak Djokovic waved flags and banners outside an Australian immigration detention hotel where he remained on Friday. Locked in a dispute over his COVID-19 vaccination status, the No. 1 men’s tennis player in the world is awaiting a court ruling on whether he can compete in the Australian Open later this month.
Djokovic, a vocal skeptic of vaccines, had travelled to Australia after Victoria State authorities granted him a medical exemption to the country’s strict vaccination requirements. But when he arrived late Wednesday, the Australian Border Force rejected his exemption as invalid and barred him from entering the country.
A court hearing on his bid to stave off deportation was set for Monday, a week before the season’s first major tennis tournament is set to begin. The defending Australian Open champion is waiting it out in Melbourne at a secure hotel used by immigration officials to house asylum seekers and refugees.
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Djokovic is hoping to overtake rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and win his 21st Grand Slam singles title, the most by any player in men’s tennis.
Djokovic’s securing of an exemption so that he could play triggered an uproar and allegations of special treatment in Australia, where people spent months in lockdown and endured harsh travel restrictions at the height of the pandemic. After his long-haul flight, the tennis star spent the night at the airport trying to convince authorities he had the necessary documentation, to no avail.
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