The tennis world reacted with a mixture of silence and disappointment to the news that Novak Djokovic would be deported from Australia after an extraordinary 12 days concluded with the federal court’s decision to uphold the cancellation of his visa.
Andy Murray was conducting his pre-tournament media rounds in Melbourne, a day after his run to the final of the Sydney International, at the exact moment that the outcome of Djokovic’s court proceedings was announced. “Novak is someone I have known since we were 12 years old, he is someone who I respect and have competed against. I don’t like that he is in this situation and I don’t like that he has been in detention,” said Murray to the BBC, speaking minutes after the decision.
“The situation has not been good all round for anyone. It feels everything here happened extremely last-minute and that’s why it became such a mess. Hopefully that won’t be the case at other events so there is no other situation like this. I wouldn’t want that for Novak, don’t want that for tennis and hopefully it is done now.”
Djokovic’s visa had been cancelled by Alex Hawke, the immigration minister, on “health and good order” grounds. The Serb had immediately registered an application to the federal court in order to have his visa cancellation overturned, but Djokovic’s application was finally dismissed on Sunday.
During Saturday’s media day, many of the most prominent players said they were dissatisfied by how Djokovic’s visa status had consumed all attention just days before the grand slam. “Honestly, I’m little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it’s important to talk about our sport, about tennis,” said Rafael Nadal.
Emma Raducanu, meanwhile, pointed out that events such as Murray’s run to the final of the Sydney International were being overshadowed. “I feel it has taken away a little bit from the great tennis that’s been happening over this summer in Australia,” she said on Saturday. Most players chose not to address Djokovic’s deportation on social media after his verdict.
Those who spoke publicly on Sunday tended to be more sympathetic towards Djokovic, offering their support as he left the country. Alize Cornet, the French women’s No 1, noted the lack of reaction from her fellow players: “I know too little to judge the situation. What I know is that Novak is always the first one to stand for the players. But none of us stood for him. Be strong,” she wrote on twitter.
Despite having been a frequent critic of Djokovic over the years, Nick Kyrgios has been one of the world No 1’s most vocal supporters among his peers over the past week. The Australian responded to the verdict with a “facepalm” emoji.
Support also came from more predictable sources. Vasek Pospisil, the co-founder alongside Djokovic of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) and a close friend, immediately spoke for the Serb, stating that Djokovic was “ready to stay home” if he had not received a medical exemption.
“Novak would never have gone to Australia if he had not been given an exemption to enter the country by the government (which he did receive; hence Judge Kelly’s initial ruling),” he wrote on Twitter. “He would have skipped the Australian Open and been home with his family and no one would be talking about this mess. There was a political agenda at play here with the elections coming up which couldn’t be more obvious. This is not his fault.”
Pospisil misrepresented the verdict of Judge Kelly during Djokovic’s first hearing. The judge had ruled for Djokovic on a procedural basis due to border officials failing to give Djokovic sufficient time to contact his representatives upon his arrival at the airport.
His fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, who was supposed to be Djokovic’s opponent in the first round on Sunday, posted a statement on social media in which he pledged to represent Djokovic on the court: “I can’t even imagine how Novak feels, what he has been through for the last 10 days. I was very happy to have the honour of opening this year’s tournament with the first player in the world on Rod Laver Arena. Unfortunately, what I have been thinking about for the last seven days from the moment the draw was made now makes no sense.”
In a statement, the ATP referred to the past 12 days as “a deeply regrettable series of events,” while lamenting the absence of Djokovic in the Australian Open draw. “We know how turbulent the recent days have been for Novak and how much he wanted to defend his title in Melbourne. We wish him well and look forward to seeing him back on court soon. ATP continues to strongly recommend vaccination to all players.”
The final day before the start of the Australian Open brought one final reflection of Djokovic’s outsized impact over the event. The tournament normally releases its order of play for the first day of competition on Saturday in order to give players as much time as possible to prepare for their matches, but this year the draw was pushed back until after 4pm on Sunday.
Djokovic was initially included in Monday’s order of play as the last night match on Rod Laver Arena against Kecmanovic. But by the end of the day, his name had been scrubbed from all lists. As Salvatore Caruso, a lucky loser, prepared to take Djokovic’s spot in the draw, the world No 1 boarded the 10:30pm flight to Dubai and started on his way back home.