Australian Open on RED ALERT amid fears of violence in the stands if Novak Djokovic is freed to play after court overturned his visa cancellation… as security is beefed up after fans clash with Melbourne police
- Scuffles have broken out between police and Novak Djokovic fans in Melbourne
- Tennis authorities in the city fear a tinderbox situation at the Australian Open
- Djokovic is the focus of rowdy supporters, who were dispersed by tear gas
- Melbourne Park was the site of a mass brawl between Serbs and Croats in 2007
Tennis authorities in Melbourne fear a tinderbox situation at the Australian Open and are reviewing security arrangements, should Novak Djokovic be finally cleared to compete.
Scuffles broke out between police and Serbian fans on Monday in the city’s business district, with protesters pepper-sprayed, after a suggestion that he was to be put back in detention despite a court freeing him to play.
With Djokovic the focus of rowdy supporters who include anti-vaxxers, the uniformed presence will be beefed up when the event begins on Monday.
Novak Djokovic is the focus of rowdy supporters in Melbourne, who include anti-vaxxers
However, it remained far from certain that he would be allowed to feature, despite winning the court ruling that overturned the Border Force’s decision to rip up his visa.
If allowed to stay, Tennis Australia will move to avoid scenes which marred the tournament in the Noughties, when fans of rival players from Balkan countries clashed. Melbourne Park’s Garden Square was the site of a mass brawl between Serbs and Croats in 2007.
Feelings were running high after Judge Anthony Kelly struck down a ruling that Djokovic should be detained or deported after he was refused entry late last Wednesday night.
In Belgrade his family gave another hyperbolic press conference, with the player’s father Srdjan saying: ‘I call on Queen Elizabeth, the leader of the Commonwealth, to intervene and protect the human rights of my son and to stop the political prosecution carried out against him since he came to Australia.’
Scuffles broke out between police and Serbian fans on Monday in the city’s business district
However, perhaps the most telling comment came from the office of immigration minister Alex Hawke, a close ally of prime minister Scott Morrison. It was made plain he could override the technical view of the court that the law was not followed in stopping Djokovic at the border.
‘It remains within immigration minister Hawke’s discretion to consider cancelling Mr Djokovic’s visa under his personal power of cancellation within the Migration Act,’ read the statement. ‘The minister is considering the matter and the process remains ongoing.’
The judge ordered that Djokovic be released within half an hour of him handing his verdict down and the player, who has been unable to exercise since leaving his base in Marbella a week ago, wasted no time in heading to Melbourne Park to practise.
Melbourne Park’s Garden Square was the site of a brawl between Serbs and Croats in 2007
He posted on his Twitter feed: ‘I’m pleased and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete in the Australian Open. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of amazing fans.’
Court documents detailing his interview with border officials made clear for the first time that Djokovic remains unvaccinated. His grounds for entry are a somewhat mysterious positive Covid test that was taken on December 16.
Whether his cause was helped by his family’s condemnatory statements about his treatment is another matter. His captivity was described as ‘inhumane’ and his brother Djordje insisted that ‘he is only fighting for freedom of choice’.
At least Rafael Nadal, who had previously criticised Djokovic, seemed satisfied about his participation. ‘It seems perfect to me, totally correct,’ said Nadal. ‘Whether or not you agree with some of the things regarding Djokovic, justice has spoken and has said that he has the right to play in the Australian Open, and that’s really the fairest way.’
Serbia’s Djokovic still doesn’t know for certain if he will be allowed to stay in Australia to play
Novak Djokovic is still in limbo as immigration minister refuses to rule out cancelling his visa – but he posted this picture of himself practising at Rod Laver area just hours after he was finally released from detention after a five-day-long ordeal