An Australian judge has postponed until next week world tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic's appeal against his deportation as the furor continues over a canceled local exemption that would have allowed him to defend his title at this month's Australian Open.
The 34-year-old Serb and public critic of vaccines will spend at least another night confined to a hotel room in Melbourne, where he has been held since Australian Border Force officials on January 6 rejected an initial medical exemption from COVID-19 restrictions to enter the country.
Australian Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly initially said a filing error had delayed Djokovic's request for an injunction against deportation, before adjourning the hearing process to January 10.
The two-week Australian Open tennis tournament, one of world tennis's premier events with a global audience of hundreds of millions, is scheduled to start on January 17.
Djokovic, a 20-time Grand Slam singles champion who won the last three Australian Opens, has repeatedly stated his opposition to vaccination since the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly two years ago but has never disclosed his vaccine status.
Djokovic's announcement that he'd been granted an exemption and was headed to Melbourne was met with outrage among some Australians, who have been among the world's most tightly limited populations but are seeing a huge spike in COVID-19 cases since the omicron variant appeared about a month ago.
Longtime rival Spaniard Rafael Nadal said that "in some way I feel sorry for him" but added that "he knew the conditions" many months ago.
"He made his own decisions and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences," Nadal said.
Nadal, Djokovic, and Switzerland's Roger Federer, who won't be in Australia, are all tied with 20 Grand Slam titles each.
The debate around vaccine mandates has gained steam since omicron's appearance, including when French President Emmanuel Macron suggested on January 5 that he wanted to "piss off" vaccine holdouts by limiting their access to public places.
"Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently canceled," the Australian Border Force said in a statement on January 6.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Instagram that he spoke with Djokovic over the phone and told him that "the whole of Serbia is with him and that our authorities are undertaking all measures in order that maltreatment of the world's best tennis player ends as soon as possible.”
Many Serbians rallied behind Djokovic when he organized a regional tennis tournament in June 2020 amid massive lockdowns during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in multiple infections, including his own.
He submitted to an application process for a medical exemption ahead of this year's Australian Open, but has never said what his medical issues are.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned that Djokovic would be on the “next plane home” if his evidence for being exempted from COVID-19 vaccination rules was deemed insufficient.
More than 90 percent of Australia's over-16 population is fully vaccinated, but some people still cannot travel interstate or globally because of current measures.