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Djokovic waits in Australian detention as lawyers debate vaccination status

Djokovic waits in Australian detention as lawyers debate vaccination status
January 7, 2022 Reuters

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – World number one Novak Djokovic spent a second day in immigration detention in Australia on Friday as his lawyers battled to secure his release to play in the Australian Open and be exempt from strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews hit back at suggestions by Serbian supporters, including Djokovic's family, that he was being "held captive", stressing the star player is free to leave the country at any time.

Djokovic, who is chasing a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam in Melbourne from Jan. 17, was detained at the airport when he arrived on Wednesday evening.

His entry visa, supported by an exemption from the country's vaccination requirements, was revoked, prompting his lawyers to successfully scramble for legal approval for him to remain in the country until a full hearing scheduled for Monday.

"Mr. Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia, he is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that," she told reporters.

Spanish champion Rafael Nadal told reporters in Melbourne he felt sorry for his rival "but at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago."

However, American tennis player Tennys Sandgren, who said he opposed mandatory vaccination, sent his support.

"Novak, stay strong, buddy," Sandgren told Reuters. "Hope you get out of there soon."

Djokovic's wife, Jelena, posted a photo on Instagram of the couple embracing on a beach to mark Orthodox Christmas on Friday, saying "the only law that we should all respect across every single border is love and respect for another human being."

Djokovic's family held an emotional news conference at his restaurant in Belgrade on Thursday, with his nine previous Australian Open trophies on display, before protesting in front of parliament.