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World number one Novak Djokovic is free to leave Australia, the country’s Home Affairs Minister said as she hit back at suggestions by Serbian supporters, including Djokovic’s family, that he was being “held captive”.

“Mr Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia. He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and (Australian) Border Force will actually facilitate that,” Karen Andrews said on Friday.

Djokovic spent a second day in immigration detention in Australia on Friday as his lawyers battled to secure his release to play in the Australian Open and be exempt from strict Covid-19 vaccination requirements.

Djokovic, who is chasing a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam in Melbourne from Jan 17, was detained at the airport when he arrived on Wednesday evening.

His entry visa, supported by an exemption from the country’s vaccination requirements, was revoked, prompting his lawyers to successfully scramble for legal approval for him to remain in the country until a full hearing scheduled for Monday.

As the row escalated, officials said two other players who entered the country under the same exemption granted to Djokovic were under investigation.

Spanish champion Rafael Nadal told reporters in Melbourne he felt sorry for his rival “but at the same time, he knew the conditions since a lot of months ago.”

WIMBLEDON DAY3 NOVAK DJOKOVIC Djokovic is chasing a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam in Melbourne from Jan. 17 Credit: PAUL GROVER FOR THE TELEGRAPH

However, American tennis player Tennys Sandgren, who said he opposed mandatory vaccination, sent his support.

“Novak, stay strong, buddy,” Sandgren told Reuters. “Hope you get out of there soon.”

Djokovic’s wife, Jelena, posted a photo on Instagram of the couple embracing on a beach to mark Orthodox Christmas on Friday, saying “the only law that we should all respect across every single border is love and respect for another human being”. 

Djokovic’s family held an emotional news conference at his restaurant in Belgrade on Thursday, with his nine previous Australian Open trophies on display, before protesting in front of parliament.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused the Australian government of harassment and persecution, allegations rejected by Canberra.

“They are keeping him in captivity. They are stomping all over Novak to stomp all over Serbia,” Srdjan Djokovic said of his son.

Some critics say Prime Minister Scott Morrison is using the issue to boost his pandemic-fighting credentials with an election looming in coming months amid a record surge in new Covid-19 infections, claims the government denies.

The initial decision to grant an exemption to Djokovic, who has consistently refused to disclose his vaccination status while publicly criticising mandatory vaccines, was widely criticised in a country where more than 90 per cent of the population are double vaccinated.

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