He was in the air when the game changed and he was denied entry. Some believe politics are at play in a country experiencing a virus surge, and they are arguing about how to stop it.
Initial Australian officials stated that Djokovic (a vocal skeptic about vaccines and who refused to answer if he had the COVID-19 shot) would be exempted from strict vaccine rules by the state authorities to allow him to take part in the Australian Open.
However, when he arrived at the border, his visa was cancelled by federal officials. He is now being held in an immigration detention facility while he appeals this decision.
Although it is not known what caused the reverse, the outcry over the exclusion led to a protest that the star was being given special treatment by Australia, which has witnessed some of the most severe pandemic rules in the world.
Open host Melbourne was not pleased with Djokovic's refusal of discussing his vaccination status or explaining why his exemption on health grounds had been granted. In Melbourne, 92% of eligible people are fully vaccinated, and cases are increasing,
On Friday, Melbourne had reported 21 728 new cases of COVID-19. Six deaths occurred and there was an increase in hospitalizations. 18 state-run PCR testing facilities had reached capacity by 9:15 a.m. and were now closed.
Residents of Melbourne spent 256 days in 2020 and 2021 under strict restrictions on movement and gatherings.
Many Australians cheered Djokovic's decision to stay put against this backdrop.
Peter FitzSimons, columnist, wondered how it could have been any other way.
He wrote this in the Sydney Morning Herald, "The first grand-slam of 2018 is, after all," He was not meant to just "waltz in", be the exception to this rule just because he could hit the ball well.
Many shared the sentiment on social media. One poster complained that he couldn't fly to Australia from Britain during lockdowns to attend his family funerals.
Some say that the athlete is being made a scapegoat.
"The guy followed the rules, got his visa, arrived, he's nine-time champion, and whether people like or not, he's entitled fair play," Paul McNamee, former Australian Open tournament director and Davis Cup participant, told the Australian Broadcast Corp. "There is no doubt that there's some disconnect among the state and federal government."
He said, "I hate to believe politics are involved. But it feels that way."
Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, had initially not objected to Tennis Australia's decision to exempt Djokovic, but he quickly accepted the federal Border Force's move to deny him entry.
Morrison stated, "No one is above these laws." Australia has one of the lowest COVID death rates, thanks to its strong border policies. We will continue to be vigilant."
In recent months, Morrison's government has pivoted to a living-with-the-virus approach that includes more open borders and a lighter touch on domestic restrictions. The changes were made just as the highly contagious Omicron variant began to spread.
The new strategy has been heavily criticised by Morrison, who is running for re-election in March. He points out that Australia's low mortality rate and strong economy, both of which are among the top in the world, is evidence that he can lead the country through this crisis.
He said, "We have no other choice than to ride the wave (of Omicron cases)", "What is the alternative?" We must continue to press on."
Morrison was also criticised for not securing enough rapid antigen testing to relieve the pressure on PCR testing sites, where waiting times can exceed five hours in some states. He refused to make rapid testing widely available and freely available.
New South Wales, Australia's largest state, was the hardest hit by the current micron surge. It emerged after Dominic Perrottet, the state premier, relaxed mask mandates. Other states have taken longer to ease virus-related restrictions, creating tension between Australia’s states and federal government.
Many in Serbia, where Djokovic has been a national hero for many years, were also upset by the cancellation of his visa. Djokovic's family expressed anger at the decision and the Serbian president condemned it.
"You, the famous Prime Minister (Morrison), of faraway, naturally beautiful country are behaving in accordance with your own principles which have nothing to do wit us or our principles," Djokovic’s father Srdan said to reporters. "We are human, and you, sir are not."
Djokovic was left to await the court proceedings at a Melbourne hotel, which also houses asylum-seekers and refugees who have been moved from Australia's offshore detention centers. About half of the 46 asylum seekers being held at the hotel were infected by a COVID-19 epidemic in October.
Djordje, Djokovic's brother, said that Djokovic had been taken to a "dirty room without any belongings."
Djordje said that he was treated as a criminal while he is a healthy, decent man and a professional athlete who has not endangered any person's life or committed any federal or lawful offence."
Now, the process that led Djokovic to be granted an exemption from being charged is under investigation. Tennis Australia claims that the exemption was granted by an independent panel made up of medical professionals, who were not aware of the applications being considered.
The border force stated in an email that it had completed investigations into two other cases involving Open-related people and concluded that "one individual has voluntarily left Australia... and the visa for a third person has been cancelled."
Canberra's Embassy for the Czech Republic identified Renata Voracova, 38, as the person involved. She stated that she intended to leave the country as soon possible.