The Australian Open champion's self-portrait before he left for Melbourne began the storm that ended with him being banished over his Covid vaccination status, a former star has claimed
Novak Djokovic's badly-received photo before he flew to Australia led to his detainment by the country's government and the cancelation of his visa, according to former world number five Anna Chakvetadze.
The decision by Djokovic to publish the picture, which showed him smiling alongside his luggage as he prepared for his mammoth journey to Australia on January 4, was part of his downfall, eight-time WTA title winner Chakvetadze has claimed.
The snap was thought to have ended speculation over whether Djokovic, who many suspected at the time was not vaccinated and therefore did not meet border requirements to enter Australia, would defend his title.
Critics of Djokovic swiftly piled in after he mentioned receiving "exemption permission" in the post - the agreement the world number one believed he had with officials to enter Australia without being vaccinated because he had tested positive for Covid in December 2021.
That led to accusations that Djokovic had been given special treatment, only for the Serb superstar to be questioned by border chiefs immediately after arrival in Australia, detained and fall foul of Australian Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke's second attempt to cancel his visa and deport the frustrated top seed.
"It all started, in my opinion, with an Instagram photo that he was flying to Australia," ex-Maria Sharapova rival Chakvetadze told Sport Express about Djokovic's surprise announcement to his following of more than 10 million on Instagram.
"And to fly for a long time [25 hours after the photo was published] - in Australia there was such [controversy] that Djokovic was flying into the country with a medical exemption, without vaccination.
"Everyone was already under pressure from journalists. It all started with this, as other people with a medical exemption quietly flew in without any statements and publications."
Chakvetadze, who ended her impressive playing career in 2013, shares the confusion of many players over why Djokovic was apparently given the impression that he could travel to Australia and play.
Transcripts from his interviews with the border force strongly suggest that Djokovic had been assured he would be granted the exemption and allowed to compete, and Chakvetadze has called the ensuing lengthy saga, which ended a day before the start of the tournament with his departure to Dubai, "frankly disgusting".
"There are more questions in this story about why Novak was given the green light and flew to Australia and generally believed that he could safely take part in the tournament," said the 34-year-old.
"Just immediately the government [could] have answered that 'no, you cannot enter our country.'
"If he was immediately refused [permission] and he did not fly in, this is one situation. But he was told that in principle you can perform, come, and then after this photo there was a noise, and on the spot no one began to take responsibility."
The former quarterfinalist in Melbourne fears Djokovic could be banned from returning to the tournament, which he has won nine times, for three years as part of the decision by prime minister Scott Morrison's administration.
"He will not play in his favorite tournament for three years," she suggested. "The lawyers will probably appeal.
"He's 35 this year, plus three years - although he might play until 40, who knows? Everything turned out very, very ugly."