The highly anticipated draw for the Australian Open has been abruptly delayed as tournament favourite Novak Djokovic sweats on a federal government decision on his visa.
The draw was due to start in Melbourne at 3pm on Thursday (AEDT), but was postponed without explanation.
Tennis Australia’s live-stream was also cut.
Tennis Australia later confirmed the draw would be held at 4.15pm, but offered no explanation for the sudden delay.
The developments came amid uncertainty about whether Djokovic would be able to play, and as it emerged the world No.1 faces potential legal action in two other countries over apparent inconsistencies in the paperwork he submitted for his Australian visa exemption.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to comment on the issue at his press conference following Thursday’s national cabinet meeting.
“I will refer you to [Immigration Minister Alex] Hawke’s most recent statement, and that position hasn’t changed,” was the only comment.
Mr Hawke is still considering the future of Djokovic’s on-again, off-again visa, with the Australian Open due to get under way on Monday.
But it emerged on Thursday that the world No.1 is also under investigation by Spanish and Serbian authorities, according to reports.
It follows information revealed in documents submitted to the minister this week raised further questions about Djokovic’s December COVID-19 diagnosis, after he admitted attending several public events – including one for children – while infected.
Serbian authorities are investigating if the events breached the country’s isolation rules.
“It is a criminal offence, according to Article 248 of the Criminal Code, and for which either a fine or a sentence of up to three years in prison is envisaged,” Dragisa Calic of the Committee of Lawyers for Human Rights (Yukom) told the BBC in Serbian.
Serbian PM Ana Brnabic has also flagged potential issues for the tennis star.
“That would be a clear violation of the rules – if you know you are positive, you should be in isolation,” Ms Brnabic said.
“However, I don’t know when he got the results, when he saw them. It’s up to Novak to explain.”
Elsewhere, Spanish media is reporting that the country’s Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have asked police and immigration authorities to investigate Djokovic’s travel there.
On his arrival document into Australia, the star said he had been in no other countries in the 14 days before flying to Melbourne from Spain, via Dubai, and landing on January 5.
To comply with that statement, he would have had to have been in Spain by December 22.
But social media posts and news articles from late December show him apparently in Belgrade, where he was filmed playing tennis in the street.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares has said he has no information about whether Djokovic visited Spain before travelling to Australia.
“I have no record of this presence of Djokovic,” he said on Wednesday.
Since September, Serbian citizens have been required to present a vaccine certificate or a special exemption to enter Spanish territory.
Spanish authorities say they received no such request from Djokovic.
Back in Australia, Mr Hawke is considering whether to cancel Djokovic’s visa, after this week’s Federal Court ruling overturning an Australian Border Force decision to revoke the champion’s entry to Australia.
Mr Hawke, whose decision is widely reported to be handed down on Thursday, has the power to deport Djokovic and bar him from the country for three years.
Thursday is also the day the draw for the Australian Open will be held, ahead of play beginning on Monday.
Elsewhere, Djokovic’s anti-COVID vaccination stance is also dividing opinions in his Serbian homeland – in contrast to the vehement support from Australia’s Serbian community.
The athlete, who has embraced a new-age lifestyle, has never been vaccinated for COVID-19 although he has not advocated resistance to inoculation – a hot topic in Serbia for over a year.
People waiting for their jab at a hall in Belgrade disagreed on whether the country’s most famous sportsman should have his jab.
“He should be vaccinated because it is good for every person, and for him,” Robi Basic said.
Marina Djodic defended Djokovic’s stance.
“It is a matter of choice. Everyone makes own choices,” she said.
COVID-19 has so far killed 12,984 people in the Balkan country, which has a population of about seven million.
More than 1,386,000 cases have been recorded.
Snezana Kalabic, a doctor overseeing vaccinations at the hall, said the numbers of those getting their shots had dwindled since last January.
“At the beginning, we would vaccinate five, six thousand people. In past weeks, the numbers fell drastically to 400 and now to 300 doses per day,” Dr Kalabic said.
Although they introduced restrictive measures in 2020, Serbian authorities have maintained relatively loose policies.
Ms Brnabic said she preferred education to penalties in combating the pandemic.
“I would always prefer talking to people, educating people, informing and appealing, than introducing penalty policies,” she told Reuters.
Bojan Klacar, executive director of the Belgrade-based CESID pollster, said those who are against the vaccination remained entrenched despite appeals by public figures and authorities.