Australian Open organisers “deeply regret” the effect of the Novak Djokovic deportation saga on the tennis tournament, adding that there were “lessons to learn”.
The Serbian defending champion and world’s top-ranked men’s player flew out of Melbourne on Sunday after he lost a court bid to stay and play in the opening Grand Slam of the year, where he was targeting a record 21st major title.
Djokovic was approved by Tennis Australia and the state of Victoria for a medical exemption to the country’s strict COVID vaccination rules based on the fact he had tested positive for the coronavirus last month.
The exemption was challenged in a legal battle that resulted in his deportation, after three judges in the Federal Court rejected a bid to have the visa reinstated.
An update from Tennis Australia. https://t.co/vJutHqH41F
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 18, 2022
In its first comments on the matter, Tennis Australia said in a statement on Tuesday it respects the court decision and hopes the focus could now switch to action on the tennis court.
“As the Australian tennis family, we recognise that recent events have been a significant distraction for everyone and we deeply regret the impact this had on all players,” it said, without mentioning Djokovic by name.
Prior to his departure, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the Australian court’s ruling, but said he respected the decision.
“I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open,” he said in a statement.
“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he added.
His dramatic departure following an 11-day saga that involved two court hearings cast a dark shadow over the tournament.
“There are always lessons to learn and we will review all aspects of our preparation and implementation to inform our planning – as we do every year,” Tennis Australia said.
The country’s tennis governing body has backed its embattled chief executive Craig Tiley, whose role in giving Djokovic the green light to come to Australia has prompted calls for him to be sacked.
Djokovic, who is now back in Serbia, is facing an unclear professional future as more governments require proof of vaccination to enter public places including sports arenas.
On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said that Djokovic will have to comply with the country’s health rules to be able to compete.
“Any sportsperson who wishes to compete in our country must comply with the health rules of Spain,” Sanchez said.
Djokovic travels regularly to Spain, where he owns a house in the southern resort of Marbella.
France’s parliament also introduced on Sunday a vaccine pass requirement to access public places, including sports arenas.