Martina Navratilova responded to Novak Djokovic’s release from immigration detention on Monday by saying the “unbelievable” chain of events could have been avoided if he had simply been vaccinated while Rafael Nadal branded the situation “a circus”.
A judge ordered Djokovic’s visa cancellation be quashed after determining unreasonableness in the way that the Australian Border Force had conducted its procedures during the world No 1’s entry interview at Tullamarine airport last week. However, Djokovic could still be denied the right to defend his Australian Open title next week if the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, cancels his visa again.
Djokovic had been sent to Melbourne’s Park Hotel last Thursday awaiting deportation after officials determined his medical exemption due to a previous covid infection to compete at the Australian Open which starts on Monday 17 January, was not valid under federal law.
Dramatic scenes followed the judge’s decision outside the offices of Djokovic’s lawyers at the Rialto Tower in central Melbourne when vocal Serbian supporters were pepper-sprayed by police after clambering on to a vehicle they believed to be transporting the tennis player following his release.
Navratilova, who won a record 59 major titles, told Good Morning Britain that everything was “getting crazier by the minute” and that Djokovic should have put others’ health before his own ambitions.
“It’s unbelievable, what a saga. It could have been avoided. I just wish Novak had taken that vaccination to begin with,’ the 65-year-old said. ‘I admire him so much but I can’t defend the choice to not get vaccinated.
“You have to take one for the team. It’s getting crazier by the minute. We’re in such close contact in the locker rooms. I couldn’t wait to get vaccinated. I admire Novak and I know what it takes to be that committed.
“I would be much more scared of getting sick from not being vaccinated than whatever side effects I might have from the vaccination. You really need to be more aware of everybody else.”
Nadal, who is level with Roger Federer and Djokovic with 20 grand slam titles apiece, joked that he would prefer the Serbian didn’t play at the upcoming Australian Open after describing the fallout from the controversy as a “circus”.
“Whether or not I agree with Djokovic on some things, justice has spoken and has said that he has the right to participate in the Australian Open and I think it is the fairest decision to do so, if it has been resolved that way. I wish him the best of luck,” Nadal told Spanish radio Onda Cero on Monday.
“On a personal level, I’d much rather he didn’t play,” Nadal said, laughing along with interviewer. “It’s sports, many interests move around it, on a general level, at an economic, advertising level. Everything is much better when the best can be playing,” Nadal said, before once again defending vaccination. “The most important institutions in the world say that the vaccine is the way to stop this pandemic and the disaster that we have been living for the last 20 months.”
Other players past and present also weighed in. John Isner, the American world No 24, who has been a prominent supporter of Djokovic’s situation tweeted: “Only thing left to do is win the trophy again and leave town never to return …” while Spain’s Feliciano López posted: “Judge Kelly solving the mess-disaster-absurdity that other parties involved have created. Tennis wins #AO2022.”
The British player Laura Robson, however, focused on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers without Djokovic’s resources who remained at the immigration hotel, asking: “What about the other people still stuck in the Park hotel?
Elsewhere, some were keen to move on with the former Australian Open chief executive, Paul McNamee, tweeting: “Djokovic has had his day in court, with all the evidence presented, and comprehensively won … let’s respect the court’s decision and move to the other court where sport is played.”
Whether Djokovic can do that or not is now in Hawke’s hands.