Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka called the Novak Djokovic saga “unfortunate” and “sad” Saturday as players complained the scandal was overshadowing the opening Grand Slam of the year.
Unvaccinated world number one Djokovic has again been detained in Australia after authorities ripped up his visa for a second time and declared he was a threat to the public.
He is facing deportation with his chances of defending his men’s title at Melbourne Park looking increasingly slim. His lawyers are battling to keep him in the country in a controversy that has dragged on for over a week.
Four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka said she didn’t know the Serbian well but was sad that it might be how he was remembered, rather than for his exploits on the court.
“I think it’s an unfortunate situation. He’s such a great player and it’s kind of sad that some people might remember (him) in this way,” she said, two days before the start of the tournament.
World number four Stefanos Tsitsipas criticised the 20-time Grand Slam winner and rival earlier this week, saying he was “playing by his own rules”.
But he was reluctant to get involved again on Saturday.
“I’m here to talk about tennis, not Novak Djokovic,” said the Greek star.
But he added: “I won’t lie. It has been pretty much on every news outlet the last couple of weeks. It has received a lot of attention. A lot of people are obviously talking about it.
“That’s why I’m here to talk about tennis. Not enough tennis has been talked about in the last couple of weeks, which is a shame.”
Australia’s main men’s hope Alex de Minaur is also getting tired of the situation, saying it was detracting from the tournament and other players.
“First of all, this whole situation has taken a lot of spotlight away from us competitors.
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We’re here to play the Australian Open.
“It feels like it’s taking away from us competitors who just want to start.”
Pressed on whether Djokovic had been the author of his own demise, he replied: “Look, Australians have gone through a lot. There’s no secret about that. They’ve had it very tough.
“They’ve done a lot of work to protect themselves and their borders. When you’re coming in, as well as every other tennis player, if you wanted to come into the country, you had to be double-vaccinated.
“It was up to him, his choices, his judgment. Here we are.”
Former world number one Andy Murray, who will play at the Open, said Friday he hoped Djokovic’s status would be cleared up.
“It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now and (it’s) not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak,” Murray said.
But he added: “I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down.”
Press Release, Source: AFP