Novak Djokovic has landed in Melbourne in the middle of a political maelstrom over his medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination requirements, with a visa blunder adding to the world No.1's problems before the Australian Open.
Djokovic touched down at Tullamarine Airport at about 11:30pm local time, but had to await permission to enter the country, after his team applied for a visa that did not allow for medical exemptions.
The Victoria state government insists it does not support Djokovic's application, putting his fate in the hands of the federal government and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Morrison faces an enormous backlash over his Government's decision to grant Djokovic a medical exemption from vaccination to play at the Open, where the player would bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title.
Australia - especially the state of Victoria - has endured the world's longest cumulative lockdown and an outbreak of the Omicron variant has sent case numbers to record levels.
After the backlash, Morrison suggested Djokovic's participation was not a done deal and he would have to satisfy the Federal Government, which has responsibility for international borders and visas, and was not part of the exemption process.
Shortly before Djokovic's arrival, Morrison said there would be "no special rules" for him on his exemption.
"If that evidence is insufficient, then he won't be treated any different to anyone else and he'll be on the next plane home."
Djokovic arrived on an Emirates flight, but the Victorian Government told border officials it would not formally support his visa.
"The Federal Government has asked if we will support Novak Djokovic's visa application to enter Australia," says acting Victoria Sports Minister Jaala Pulford.
"We will not be providing Novak Djokovic with individual visa application support to participate in the 2022 Australian Open Grand Slam.
"We've always been clear on two points - visa approvals are a matter for the Federal Government and medical exemptions are a matter for doctors."
The Border Force could not be reached for comment and it is unclear whether the Federal Government will allow his entry. .
Tennis Australia and Government officials have quickly stressed that Djokovic, who has said he is opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations, has received no preferential treatment.
Father Srdan Djokovic has been quoted in Serbian media as threatening to "gather on the street", if Aussie officials don't release his son immediately.
"They're holding my son captive for five hours," he reportedly says. "If they don't let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street - this is a fight for everyone."
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the country has offered its support to Djokovic.
"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," Vucic said in a statement on Wednesday.
DJOKOVIC BEING HELD IN HOTEL
Soon after the decision was made to deny his Visa, Djokovic was taken to the Park Hotel, a quarantine facility in Melbourne, after being held at the city's airport overnight and was told he would be removed from the country later on Thursday, a source close to the tournament told Reuters.
Djokovic - who has won nine titles at Melbourne Park, including the last three - claims he has a vaccination exemption to allow him to play at the Australian Open, which starts on January 17.
Australian tennis great Rod Laver, after whom the main Melbourne Park showcourt at is named, warns Djokovic may face hostility from the local crowd.
"I think it might get ugly," Laver tells News Corp. "I'd think the Victorian people would be thinking, 'Yes, I'd love to see him play and compete, but at the same time, there's a right way and a wrong way'.
"Yes, you're a great player, and you've performed and won so many tournaments, so it can't be physical, so what is the problem?"