MELBOURNE, Australia (AFP) — Novak Djokovic is eager to play at the Australian Open but it’s up to him to “work out the situation” with the government, tournament chief Craig Tiley said Wednesday, while confirming Russian and Belarusians can compete as neutrals.
This year’s championship was overshadowed by an unvaccinated Djokovic being deported from Australia on the eve of the Grand Slam after a high-stakes legal battle over his visa status.
The nine-time champion from Serbia is currently serving a three-year ban from entering Australia.
It can be overturned at the discretion of the center-left government, which is different to the conservative coalition in power when he was kicked out. But they have given no indication on whether they would consider this.
Tiley said he spent time with Djokovic recently and the Serbian wanted to return for the first major of the year in January in Melbourne.
“What we’re saying at this point is that Novak and the federal government need to work out the situation. And then we’ll follow any instruction after that,” Tiley told The Age newspaper at the tournament’s official launch.
“I did spend some time with Novak at the Laver Cup. We spoke generally. He said that he would obviously love to come back to Australia but he knows it’s going to be an ultimate decision for the federal government.”
“He’s accepted that position. It’s a private matter between them.”
Opposition politician Karen Andrews, who was home affairs minister when Djokovic was deported, told ABC radio he should not be given special treatment.
“It would be a slap in the face for those people in Australia who did the right thing, got vaccinated, did everything they needed to do if all of a sudden Novak Djokovic is allowed back into the country simply because he is a high-ranking tennis player with many millions of dollars,” Andrews said.
Tiley added that he anticipated no restrictions on players from countries involved in the Ukraine conflict, in contrast to Wimbledon this year, which banned them from competing.
“At this point, Russian and Belarusians will be eligible to play at the Australian Open,” he said.
“The only difference will be that they cannot represent Russia, cannot represent the flag of Russia, cannot participate in any activity such as the anthem of Russia and have to play as independent players.”
Organizers are targeting a record of 900,000 spectators at the 2023 event, with one million fans the ultimate goal.
Tiley said the previous attendance record was an estimated 820,000 people, with ticket pre-sales already strong.