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World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic will spend the weekend locked in a quarantine hotel in Melbourne as his lawyers prepare a case to overturn a decision to deny him entry into the country to play in the Australian Open.
The 34-year-old waited for several hours on Wednesday night at Melbourne airport after border officials queried the validity of his visa.
"Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled,” the Australian Border Force said in a statement.
The nine-time men’s singles champion travelled to Australia after receiving an exemption from the usual vaccination requirements from tournament organisers Tennis Australia, as well as authorities in the state of Victoria, which is home to Melbourne.
Djokovic had expected the special permit would – along with his federal government-issued visa – allow him to play at the tournament, where he is bidding for a record 21st Grand Slam singles title.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “All I can say is that the evidence for medical exemption that was provided was found to be insufficient.”
As supporters of the Serb gathered outside the hotel in the Carlton district of the city, the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic condemned the actions of Australian officials in a social media post.
“I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that we are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world’s best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.
"In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice.”
The bizzare spat ahead of the season's first Grand Slam brought equal outpourings of support and criticism.
Ukrainian player Sergiy Stakhovsky said: "When next time somebody tells you 'sports is not interfering with politics', remember 6 January, 2022, when purely political 'ego' did not allow the best tennis player in the world to enter the country to which ... 'governmental institutions' granted entry."
Tennys Sandgren added: "Just to be crystal clear here, two separate medical boards approved his exemption. And politicians are stopping it. Australia doesn't deserve to host a grand slam."
Long-time rival Rafael Nadal, who tested positive for coronavirus last month, said: “In some way I feel sorry for him but he knew the conditions months ago.”
Nadal, who is competing at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament, added: “Everyone has to do what they feel is good for them but there are rules and without the vaccine there can be trouble.
"He’s free to take his own position, but then there are consequences. Of course what’s happening is not good for Novak, in my opinion.
“But if you are vaccinated, you can play in the Australian Open.
"A lot of families have been suffering ... it’s normal that people here in Australia get very frustrated because they have been going through very hard times.”