'Strange' Djokovic statement sparks backlash

Publish Date
Wed, 19 Jan 2022, 5:48pm
Novak Djokovic. Photo / AP
Novak Djokovic. Photo / AP

'Strange' Djokovic statement sparks backlash

Publish Date
Wed, 19 Jan 2022, 5:48pm

The Australian Open rolls on with great success but the Novak Djokovic deportation saga is lingering. 

On Tuesday evening, two days into the tournament, Tennis Australia finally addressed the situation after the world No. 1 was sent packing on Sunday night. Even if it didn't mention Djokovic by name, it was clear what the governing body was referring to. 

In a statement, the TA board said it "deeply regrets" the events that led the world's best male tennis player to travel to Australia under the impression he had a medical exemption that meant he did not need to be vaccinated against Covid-19. 

"The board and Member Associations commend the Tennis Australia CEO (Tiley) and the entire Tennis Australia team for their hard work and dedication to delivering a spectacular summer of tennis," the statement read. 

"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. 

"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. That process always starts once the Australian Open champions have lifted their trophies. 

"Australia has a strong and proud tennis tradition, and it has been fantastic to see the crowds out cheering for the world's best players in the lead up to and over the opening days of the Australian Open. 

"We, like the players, and all tennis fans here and around the world, are keen for the focus to now be on the game we are all so passionate about." 

But the statement from TA may have backfired – it has since been slammed by some big names in tennis for being too vague and lacking any real substance. 

Journalist Ben Rothenberg questioned the timing of the media release, which came during Andy Murray's thrilling five-set win and shortly before all eyes turned to Nick Kyrgios on John Cain Arena. 

Martina Navratilova, who won 18 Grand Slam titles during her own illustrious career, went a step further. Speaking on the Tennis Channel, she asked "why bother" with a statement at all. 

"I think it's one word short of word salad. It doesn't tell me anything at all. Really that is just so, blah. Why bother? Why bother?" she said. 

Veteran tennis reporter Jon Wertheim from Sports Illustrated also weighed in, saying the timing was not right. 

"Timing's a little odd, wouldn't you say? Where was this a week ago when this was completely consuming the whole tournament?" he said. 

"I'm not sure you need a statement like that while Nick Kyrgios and Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu are out playing? 

"Not a lot of substance there but also interesting timing." 

Novak Djokovic after landing in Belgrade following his deportation from Australia. Photo / AP 

Former world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport said: "They were forced to say something so they said basically nothing in the statement. 

"I guess they get the credit for finally speaking out." 

The Tennis Channel's Steve Weissman suggested there was a legal reason for speaking out after so long but not saying too much. 

"Why would it take so long to say so little? Because lawyers. There will be lawyers," he added. 

Journalist Tracey Holmes found it odd that the statement did not say Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley's name, even though the board threw its support behind the CEO. 

"Does anybody else find it strange that in Tennis Australia's statement about the #djokovic affair the 'CEO' is mentioned, but nowhere does it actually name Craig Tiley?" she wrote on Twitter. 

Tiley first addressed the ongoing controversy in a leaked internal video directed to staff, saying the organisation had "done an unbelievable job" in getting everything together for the grand slam under "very difficult" circumstances. 

On January 9, Tiley publicly responded to the situation in a brief TV appearance. In an interview with Channel 9's Clint Stanaway, he said Tennis Australia was "constantly seeking clarity" over the exemption rules while dealing with "plenty of contradictory information". 

Djokovic's initial visa cancellation at the hands of Border Force officials when he arrived in Australia was overturned in court on January 10. 

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke then used his discretionary power to revoke the tennis star's visa for a second time last Friday on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so, and the grand slam champion's legal team failed to overturn that decision.