Tennis: Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic has visa cancelled over anti-COVID vaccination stance

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic pledges to fight the latest setback to his title defence at Melbourne this month, with his entry visa cancelled over his repeated refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in line with Australian rules.

Djokovic arrived at Tullamarine Airport overnight, claiming he had received a Government medical exemption to contest the upcoming Grand Slam tournament, despite state protocols requiring all players and support staff to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

But Border Force officials held him for several hours, while his status was reviewed, and his visa has now been cancelled and a deportation order issued.

"Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia and his visa has been subsequently cancelled," says the Border Force. 

The longtime COVID-19 doubter has captured pre-tournament headlines for his refusal to be vaccinated, with Serbian President Aleksander Vucic lashing out at "harrassment" of the tennis superstar and father Srdan Djokovic threatening to march the streets in protest.

"I told our Novak that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world's best tennis player is brought to an end immediately," says Vucic.

During his son's detainment, Djokovic Sr accused the Australian Government of "holding my son captive".

"If they don't let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street," Srdan Djokovic told Serbian media.

The latest development seems to confirm Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's insistence that Djokovic had not received preferential treatment over his visa application would be "on the first plane home", if his case for entry did not stack up. 

On Thursday, Morrison confirms "no-one is above rules". 

"Djokovic's visa has been cancelled," he tweets. "Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders.

"No-one is above these rules. Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant."

But a source close to the Australian Open has told Reuters his visa was the same as three other players, who have already entered the country to compete.

Australia - especially the state of Victoria - has endured the world's longest cumulative COVID-19 lockdown and an outbreak of the Omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels.