Top world tennis player Novak Djokovic is spending Orthodox Christmas in a Melbourne immigration center as he awaits a hearing over his quashed vaccine exemption to enter the country to defend his Australian Open title.
His case continues to cause ripples ahead of the new year's first Grand Slam tennis event, particularly as news emerged that a Czech women's tennis player in Australia on a COVID-19 exemption had been detained after Djokovic's complications this week, despite the fact that she had already been competing in a warm-up event in Melbourne.
Djokovic and most of his native Serbia mark the holiday on January 7 along with most of the Orthodox world.
The 34-year-old Serbian national hero's mother has spoken out against his placement in a sparsely equipped detention center for potential migrants in Melbourne, saying "they are keeping him like a prisoner."
"It’s just not fair, it’s not human," Dijana Djokovic said in Belgrade after speaking with her son by phone. "I hope he will stay strong as we are also trying, to give him some energy to keep going. I hope he will win."
The multimillionaire, 20-time Grand Slam singles champion's accommodations are "terrible...with bugs, it’s all dirty, the food is terrible," she added.
Djokovic thanked "people around the world" for their "continuous support" on Instagram on January 7.
"I can feel it and it is greatly appreciated," he said.
Australian officials have said Djokovic is free to leave -- just not to enter Australian territory as a federal court prepares for a hearing on January 10 over his injunction request against deportation.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has said that two other exemptions granted in connection with the Australian Open are also under investigation.
A general consul of the Czech Republic in Sydney confirmed on January 7 that a Czech player, doubles specialist Renata Voracova, was among "several other tennis players" in quarantine at the same immigration hotel.
Australian ABC news outlet said Voracova had "already played in a warm-up tournament in Melbourne" before she was detained on January 6. It suggested she entered Australia last month after getting an exemption based on previous COVID-19 infection and recovery.
It was unclear if the 38-year-old Voracova, who is ranked 81st in global doubles rankings, similarly planned to challenge her possible deportation.
The timing of her detention could suggest that Australian officials revisited hers and other cases after Djokovic's case was made public amid growing outrage among Australians over the exceptions.
The Australian Open is scheduled to begin on January 17.
Djokovic has been an outspoken critic of vaccination against COVID-19 and sought, and initially received, an exemption from local Australian officials despite tight restrictions on foreigners' entry amid a spike in infections.
Tennis Australia says his exception “was granted following a rigorous review process" although neither side has revealed the basis of the request.
After his arrival at Melbourne airport, the Australian Border Force on January 5 rejected his exemption as invalid, canceled his visa, and moved him to the immigration hotel.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said that two other exemptions granted in connection with the Australian Open are also under investigation.