TENNIS

Detained Djokovic offers thanks for 'continued support'

Novak Djokovic cannot walk the streets of Melbourne after being detained in a hotel ahead of a court hearing that could see him deported.

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Detained Djokovic offers thanks for 'continued support'
DPA vía Europa Press DPA vía Europa Press

Novak Djokovic thanked the supporters campaigning for him to be allowed to play at the Australian Open as he spoke out for the first time since being detained in Melbourne.

The ATP world number one will spend the weekend in a hotel that also houses refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom have been waiting years for the chance of freedom.

A court hearing on Monday should determine Djokovic's fate after Border Force officials cancelled his visa application, stating the 34-year-old had "failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia".

FILE PHOTO: Novak DjokovicFILE PHOTO: Former world No.1 tennis player Novak Djokovic speaks during a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Andrej Isakovic/File Photo

Djokovic seemed all set to play after he was granted a medical exemption by organisers of the first grand slam of the year, but his fate now hangs in the balance. An injunction secured by his legal team has allowed him to remain in the country for now, albeit in detention.

The Serbian superstar wrote on Instagram: "Thank you to people around the world for your continuous support. I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated."

That came after a message from Djokovic to mark Orthodox Christmas on Friday, as he wrote: "Peace of God. Christ was born. Merry Christmas. May God's love strengthen and fulfil you."

The Australian Open begins on January 17 and this is just about the worst possible preparation for the 20-time major winner, even if he is given permission to remain in Australia at Monday's hearing.

There was an outcry from many Melburnians when Djokovic announced on Tuesday that he was on his way to the tournament with an exemption pass.

A small number have since protested that Djokovic should be liberated, while he has found some support on social media and extensive backing from his homeland, with Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic accusing Australian authorities of "harassment of the best tennis player in the world", pledging to "fight for Novak Djokovic, for justice and truth".

Djokovic is a record nine-time champion at Melbourne Park, but there is said to be a strong feeling locally that he should have to show proof of being vaccinated against COVID-19, given the efforts residents have gone to and the stringent restrictions imposed on them during the pandemic to date.

Australian Open officials have claimed "rigorous" checks were put in place to assess the veracity of any claim for an exemption.

One theory that has been widely suggested is Djokovic, who has spoken out about vaccine matters in the past, may have been awarded the exemption on the basis he had a positive test for COVID-19 in the past six months. He has not publicly confirmed he has recently had the virus.

Sin tituloSupporters of Serbia's Novak Djokovic gather outside a government detention centre where the tennis champion is reported to be staying in Melbourne on January 7, 2022, after Australia said it had cancelled the entry visa of Djokovic, opening the way to his detention and deportation in a dramatic reversal for the tennis world number one. (Photo by CON CHRONIS / AFP)

However, reports from Australia have stated federal government officials instructed Tennis Australia in recent months that experiencing a recent case of coronavirus was not an adequate explanation for a player not being fully vaccinated.

Djokovic's wife, Jelena, issued a statement in support of her husband, posting on Instagram: "We wish we are all together today, but my consolation is that at least we are healthy. And we will grow from this experience.

"Thank you dear people, all around the world for using your voice to send love to my husband. I am taking a deep breath to calm down and find gratitude (and understanding) in this moment for all that is happening.

"The only law that we should all respect across every single border is love and respect for another human being. Love and forgiveness is never a mistake but a powerful force."

Australian authorities, all the way up to prime minister Scott Morrison, have contended their border laws are there for a good reason, with Monday promising to be a seismic day in the capital of Victoria.