‘There is real anger towards Novak Djokovic’ – Former top 10 player on the Australian reaction to visa storm

Novak Djokovic with Australian Open trophy

Novak Djokovic has caused a storm by trying to play in the Australian Open despite refusing to take a Covid-19 vaccine, with his visa revoked by Australian border patrol following his arrival in the country on Wednesday.

Now former top 10 player Barbara Schett has given her insight into the story that is dominating news agendas around the world, with the Australian-based Eurosport presenter admitting the animosity towards Djokovic in Australia is raw.

After months of strict lockdown to control the coronvirus, Schett believes Djokovic may have misjudged the mood of the Australian nation as he tried to enter the country after claiming the controversial “medical exemption” to the vaccine, as she suggests the mood will not change any time soon.

Novak Djokovic in action

“I work with Australians obviously and there is a fair bit of anger towards Novak Djokovic because we don’t know exactly what medical exemption he has,” Schett told Eurosport. “We know that he is not vaccinated, but there has to be another reason to get that exemption. Nobody is really sure about that. The Australian population are not happy with Novak Djokovic at the moment.

“It’s a topic not just in Australia but across the whole world. I woke up this morning and turned on the TV like everyone else and that was the first thing I heard – that Novak Djokovic was not granted entry into Australia. It’s in the newspapers everywhere. When I went to the courts, all the players and coaches were talking about it – it’s a huge topic and it seems like the whole country of Australia is talking about Novak Djokovic.

“It’s not surprising to me how tough the border authorities were. We all know, and all Australians know, how strict they are when you enter Australia. You can’t take certain foods, they really check everything about you.

“They check your visa, they check everything has been completed correctly, and if it’s not done correctly they won’t let you in. So many people every day get sent home – that’s why Australia, I guess, is so special.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a world number one in tennis, the President of the United States, the rules apply to everyone in Australia. It’s really, really strict and it does not surprise me that Novak Djokovic has not been treated differently to any other person.

“The press has been very critical. Obviously, we all know that Australia has been going through a rough time in the last couple of years. There are a lot of journalists, and a lot of people, who don’t want unvaccinated people to enter Australia.

“The vaccination rate here in Australia is approximately 92% – people have been going through an extremely rough time, especially in Victoria, they were in a lockdown for 270 days and that obviously is different to what has happened in Europe because you could only leave your house for one hour a day to potentially exercise.

“So, you can just imagine 270 days what that did to the people so they all wanted to get the vaccination, they all wanted to live in freedom. Also, within Australia you couldn’t travel from one state to another. Family members were dying and people couldn’t go to funerals. It’s been extremely rough and obviously, I have not even mentioned that you could not enter Australia and you couldn’t leave Australia.

“So everyone was locked up for two years, and that’s why it’s a sensitive topic. It is still extremely difficult to get into Australia for the public, so the tennis players do already have an exemption to be able to compete and be here in Australia.”

Schett went on to suggest Djokovic may be in for a rough ride if his appeal against the decision to revoke his visa is accepted, with animosity towards the Serb unlikely to wane if he gets to play in the Australian Open.

It’s certainly not going to be easy for Novak Djokovic to step out there on Rod Laver Arena, probably to play his first round match again,” she continued. “Once again, I have to mention, the Victorian population is really angry. They’re very hurt.

“They are tired of what has happened in the last couple of years have been locked away. And I think it’s going to be a rough time for Novak Djokovic if he steps out there and Rod Laver Arena and I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of fans.That could be a lot of whistling and booing probably going on. That’s what I feel at the moment. That’s how the Australian population is reacting.

Eurosport analyst Barbara Schett
Eurosport analyst Barbara Schett (Antoine Couvercelle)

“We all know that Novak Djokovic had his biggest results here. That’s the Grand Slam tournament he has won the most times, and he has always loved playing here. And certainly this is not helping the relationship between Australia or the Australian Open and Novak Djokovic.

“I’m sure there’s going to be lots of talks between the tournament director and Novak Djokovic. There’s lots of things to be sorted out now, we still have to wait, but it’s certainly not helping the relationship.”

Several players including Rafael Nadal has suggested Djokovic should have accepted the need to be vaccinated, with Schett suggesting the defending Australian Open champion will be in for a rough ride in the dressing room if he gets to play in Melbourne.

“The players have known that you have to be vaccinated to be able to play the Australian Open for months now and there’s not a lot of understanding to not get vaccinated and try to enter the country because most of the players, they follow the rules,” she added.

“Then there’s one person who doesn’t follow the rules. So, there’s different reactions and a lot of it is also filled a little bit with anger from the players I have to say, because they’re just trying to do the right thing.

“The players are thinking that they have known for many months now that you have to be double vaccinated to be able to enter Australia. So, there was a long notice what to have to do to be able to come to Australia. And that’s what Rafa Nadal also said. Everybody has to do the part to be able to play and to protect the whole world from this virus.

“So that’s not just Rafa Nadal, a lot of players, they think like that. And, yes, there’s not a lot of positive thoughts going towards Novak Djokovic at the moment.”

The Australian Open will be live on Eurosport from January 17th.