SYDNEY — Novak Djokovic apologized on Wednesday for making a mistake on an Australian travel document as the country’s immigration minister considers whether to cancel the tennis star’s visa for a second time, just days before the start of the Australian Open.
“This was a human error and certainly not deliberate,” he wrote. “We are living in challenging times in a global pandemic and sometimes these mistakes can occur.”
The admission adds to lingering uncertainty over Djokovic’s ability to remain in Australia, which has enforced tight protocols around coronavirus vaccination. Even as the unvaccinated star prepares to defend his Australian Open title, he could be re-detained at any moment and deported.
The saga is a slippery one for the Australian government. Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially embraced the decision to expel Djokovic, appearing to welcome the chance to shift the national discussion away from soaring coronavirus cases to border security ahead of a federal election in a few months. But the tennis player’s successful court appeal was an embarrassment. And a second attempt to deport Djokovic could not only deepen the dispute with Serbia but also undermine one of Australia’s flagship sporting events.
Djokovic’s travel declaration, which was among documents posted publicly on Monday as part of his court hearing, had appeared to conflict with images and eyewitness descriptions of him in Serbia and then Spain shortly before he flew to Australia.
Djokovic also sought to clear up “misinformation” about his positive coronavirus test in Serbia, which formed the basis for his request for an exemption to Australia’s requirement that foreign visitors be vaccinated against the virus.
The Serb said he “felt obliged” to go ahead with a Dec. 18 newspaper interview and photo shoot despite learning that he had tested positive for the virus.
“On reflection, this was an error of judgment and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” he said.
Djokovic had a mask on during the interview but took it off and screamed for the photo shoot, according to the journalist from L’Equipe, who said he has since tested negative.
The apology came after Germany’s Der Spiegel published an investigation into Djokovic’s positive test, which was made public as part of the tennis player’s visa cancellation appeal. The article reported that the test result might have been “manipulated.” Other media have raised questions about photos showing Djokovic at public, indoor events without a mask after he took his test.
Djokovic obliquely addressed the reports in his Instagram post, saying that he needed to rebut misinformation “in the interest of alleviating broader concern in the community about my presence in Australia.”
The tennis player wrote that he had attended a basketball game in Belgrade on Dec. 14 at which a number of people contracted the virus. Djokovic said he did not have any symptoms but took a rapid antigen test and a PCR test “out of an abundance of caution.”
The rapid test result was negative, as was another one he took the following day before attending an event with children. It was after that event that he received the positive PCR test result, he said.
He went ahead with the interview and photo shoot the next day because “I didn’t want to let the journalist down,” he said.
The apology came as Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, said he is still considering whether to use his personal power to cancel Djokovic’s visa.
“Mr. Djokovic’s lawyers have recently provided lengthy further submissions and supporting documentation said to be relevant to the possible cancellation of Mr. Djokovic’s visa,” a spokesperson for Hawke said in a statement. “Naturally, this will affect the time frame for a decision.”
Djokovic has been practicing at the Melbourne Park sports complex ahead of the start of the Australian Open on Monday. He is seeking to win a record-breaking 21st men’s singles Grand Slam title.
Though Djokovic has kept a low profile since his release, refraining from interviews and practicing behind closed doors, his parents continue to lambaste the Australian government over its handling of his case.
His father, Srdjan, called Morrison a “dictator” this week and asked Queen Elizabeth II — nominally Australia’s sovereign — to intervene. On Wednesday, Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, scoffed at the tournament’s vaccination requirement.
“If he’s healthy, if his PCR is negative, why he cannot play?” she told Australia’s Channel 7 News. “Are they afraid if he coughs on the court he’s going to get ill, like, 10,000 people? It’s not true. It’s silly.”
She also urged Australia to let him compete.
“I realize that this is not over yet and we are all praying that he will stay,” she said. “Don’t throw him out, he is a tennis player, he is not politician, he is not a criminal, he is not a murderer. He’s just a tennis player, the best in the world. Just let him play.”