Anthony Albanese has stepped away from Canberra to lap up the Australian Open final in Melbourne with his superfund executive girlfriend Jodie Haydon.
The opposition leader was among a long list of Australian celebrities who graced the grandstands at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night to witness Spaniard Rafael Nadal and Russian world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev‘s blockbuster match.
Athletes, business magnates, and politicians alike – including Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, pub baron Justin Hemmes, Shayne Warne, and AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan – piled into the stadium just before the 7.30pm kick-off.
Nadal won his 21st grand slam title – the record number of majors that world No.1 Novack Djokovic was likely eyeing off before his dramatic deportation from Australia – courtesy of the federal government – on the eve of the season’s first slam.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was noticeably absent from the stadium after the Djokovic saga nearly derailed the tournament, sparking international outcry as critics called for Australia to be stripped of hosting the event.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese watched the Australian Open men’s singles final with his partner Jodie Haydon on Sunday night
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was invited but declined the invitation to remain in Queensland
The nation’s leader was invited to attend the men’s final but turned the opportunity down to remain on his Liberal campaign trail in Queensland, visiting Australia Zoo’s wildlife hospital on Saturday to pledge $50million towards Koala conservation.
Embattled Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck also shot down an invite – although Morrison government Trade Minister Dan Tehan made an appearance, scoring a front row seat just metres away from Rod Laver.
With his political opponent out of view, the Labor leader seized the opportunity to woo tennis fans – also having attending the Women’s finals between Aussie Ash Barty and America’s Danielle Collins on Saturday night.
Mr Albanese and Ms Haydon, who have been dating since June 2020, dined at the exclusive O Room lounge above Rod Laver Arena before taking their seats, The Age reports.
Former treasurer Peter Costello and current Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, also spotted in the grandstand sitting next to each other, reportedly enjoyed at meal at the invite-only sponsored hospitality event prior to the match.
Nadal’s bid for the title crown had a shaky start on Sunday after Medvedev took the first round 6-2 and the second after a 6-7 tie break.
Rafael Nadal, left, of Spain and Daniil Medvedev of Russia poses ahead of the men’s singles final at the Australian Open
After two desperate court battles and a fortnight-long saga that drew worldwide attention, Djokovic’s departure for not having the necessary visa to enter the country opened the door for Nadal.
Djojovic spend several nights in a refugee detention centre in Melbourne, alongside dozens of men who have been there for up to eight years while they seek asylum – bringing the world’s attention to their cause.
Campaigners tried to take advantage of the newfound interest in their cause, but feared that when Djokovic was deported, the world’s attention would also be turned away.
After playing just two matches between June and January because of a crippling foot injury aggravated during his devastating French Open finals loss last year to Djokovic, not even the Spaniard dreamed of being in this position.
‘We can create histories but the real truth is that two months ago we didn’t know if we will be able to be back on tour at all,’ Nadal said after his epic five-set quarter-final victory over Denis Shapovalov on Wednesday.
History is at stake for Medvedev, too.
Novak Djokovic (pictured with team leaving Australia) was deported from the country earlier this month after his visa was cancelled
After denying Djokovic a fabled calendar-year grand slam with victory over the world No.1 in last year’s US Open final, Medvedev is striving to become the first man to capture his second career major in successive slams.
Nadal, typically, has full respect for the Russian, knowing the 25-year-old is a vastly different proposition to the opponent he beat in five gruelling sets in the 2019 final at Flushing Meadows.
‘If I’m not able to play at my top level, I will be simply no chance,’ Nadal said.
‘One thing won’t change, I need to play at my highest level.’
Djokovic has been banned from entering Australia for three years after losing his federal court appeal against Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel his visa on public health grounds.
However, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said should Djokovic return to Australia with compelling reasons in the future ‘that may be looked at’.
The world no.1 could also be banned from participating in the French Open in May after France introduced a covid pass earlier this month barring the unvaccinated from all sports arenas.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC’S AUSTRALIAN OPEN EPIC VISA SAGA
Novak Djokovic’s defence of his Australian Open title remains in doubt after Australian immigration officials cancelled his visa for the second time.
Here’s how the saga has unfolded:
Jan 4: Djokovic tweets that he is on his way to the Australian Open under a medical exemption. He writes on Instagram: ‘I’ve spent fantastic quality time with my loved ones over the break and today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission. Let’s go 2022!!’
Jan 5: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warns Djokovic he will be on the ‘next plane home’ if his medical exemption is deemed insufficient, and is adamant Djokovic will not receive preferential treatment.
Jan 5: Djokovic’s visa is cancelled upon his arrival in Melbourne. The Australian Border Force announces that the player ‘failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements for Australia’.
Jan 6: Djokovic is sent to the Park Hotel in Melbourne after being refused a visa. He launches an appeal, which is adjourned until 10am on January 10. Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic says Djokovic is the victim of ‘persecution’.
Jan 9: Djokovic’s lawyers claim he was granted a vaccine exemption to enter Australia because he recorded a positive Covid-19 test in Serbia on December 16. However, social media posts suggest he attended a number of social events in the days following his apparent diagnosis.
Jan 10: Djokovic’s visa cancellation is quashed by Judge Anthony Kelly, who orders the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention within half-an-hour. Djokovic says he is ‘pleased and grateful’ and wishes to ‘stay and try to compete’.
Jan 11: Djokovic’s title defence remains in doubt as the Australian Immigration Minister ponders whether to over-ride the court’s ruling, reportedly due to an alleged misleading claim made by Djokovic on his entry form relating to his movements in the 14 days prior to arrival in Australia.
Jan 12: Djokovic admits making an ‘error of judgement’ by attending an interview with a French journalist while Covid positive. He adds that, although he attended a children’s tennis event the day after being tested, he did not receive notification of the positive test until after the event.
Jan 13: Djokovic is drawn to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.
Jan 14: Immigration minister Minister Alex Hawke cancels Djokovic’s visa for a second time, saying in a statement it was ‘on health and good order grounds’.
Jan 15: Djokovic’s lawyers have a minor win in court, with the judge agreeing to have the matter heard by a panel of three judges on Sunday – a decision fiercely opposed by the government
Jan 16: Djokovic LOSES his appeal and is told he will be deported. He is later seen at Melbourne Airport as he and his team leave Australia.
Reporting by PA