The ramifications of Australia’s strict entry rules pertaining to Australian Open participants continue to rumble on outside of the Novak Djokovic situation, with Czech player Renata Voracova revealing harrowing details of her interrogation after her Australian visa was revoked by authorities.
I hope Tennis Australia will face up to it, and that we won’t have to take legal steps. I’m not thinking about tennis. I’m still waking up from the shock, I haven’t processed it yet. I’m exhausted. Renata Voracova
After entering the country and competing in a tournament, Voracova was told last week that her visa was cancelled for failing to meet the Australian Government’s requirement that all incoming non-citizens must be vaccinated against the virus.
Like Djokovic, the doubles specialist was granted a medical exemption by Tennis Australia to compete at the AO after recovering from COVID-19 late last year, and it is understood that she has not been vaccinated against the virus.
The 38-year-old was kept in the same deportation hotel as Djokovic before flying out of Melbourne last Saturday after enduring 6 hours of questioning by border force officials.
“I’m in a room and I can’t go anywhere,” the 38-year-old Voracova, ranked 81st in doubles, told the Czech newspapers DNES and Sport last Friday. “My window is shut tight, I can’t open it five centimetres.
“And there are guards everywhere, even under the window, which is quite funny. Maybe they thought I would jump and run away,” added Voracova, labelling the hotel as ‘a better dormitory’.
“They bring me food, and there’s a guard in the corridor. You have to report, everything is rationed. I feel a bit like in prison.”
Later Voracova said about her detention the previous Thursday: “I was there almost for a week in Melbourne and, on Friday, I was actually planning to go to another tournament, so I board[ed] my flight, because everything was ready, and they just came to my hotel.
“First they told me when they came to my room that they want[ed] just some explanation about my exemption, that it would take around an hour.”
In fact she was interrogated by officials for 6 hours and was later told her exemption was not a valid reason to enter Australia.
An ABF spokesperson later confirmed that she had ‘voluntarily departed Australia following ABF inquiries’.
“I had to defend myself in 10 minutes after questioning why I should stay in the country,” Voracova said.
On the amount of legal advice she received during questioning, she added: “I had someone there, but they couldn’t really go to the process, they just sat next to me, and they were not allowed to give me any advice during the questioning. It was really tough.”
Voracova has now vowed to pursue Tennis Australia for compensation, after she left the country on a flight to Dubai on Saturday because of the visa dispute.
In an interview with Denik, a newspaper in the Czech Republic, Voracova said her compensation claim would not be small.
“The air ticket alone cost 60,000 Czech crowns (US$2,822), and my coach travelled with me—and then there is all that time, hotels, training for the Grand Slam, the potential prize money,” she said.
“I hope Tennis Australia will face up to it, and that we won’t have to take legal steps.
“I’m not thinking about tennis. I’m still waking up from the shock, I haven’t processed it yet. I’m exhausted,” she added.
The WTA has backed Voracova, noting that it encouraged players to be vaccinated and was supportive of Australia’s travel restrictions.
In a statement the WTA said: “The WTA is supportive and appreciative of all the efforts put forth by Craig Tiley and Tennis Australia to host the Summer of Tennis under conditions that continue to be challenging for all.
“The WTA believes that all players should be vaccinated and is in full support of the immigration policies that have been put in place as the protection of the Australian communities in which we compete is critical.
“That being said, the complications experienced over the past few days where athletes have followed the approved and authorised process of receiving a medical exemption for entry into the country are unfortunate.
“Renata Voracova followed these rules and procedures, was cleared for entry upon her arrival, competed in an event and then suddenly had her visa cancelled when she had done nothing wrong.
“We will continue to work with all authorities on addressing this unfortunate situation in an appropriate manner.”
Voracova had competed last week at the Melbourne Summer Set, an AO warm-up tournament, and was set to play in the doubles competition at the upcoming Grand Slam alongside Egypt’s Mayar Sherif, who is now on the look-out for a new partner.
The Czech has since revealed the harrowing details of her interrogation, claiming she was forced to undress.
“I didn’t expect that in the darkest dream, it was just too much,” she told Czech newspaper Deník. “I was worried. I didn’t feel safe until I was back home, nothing was certain.
“It was as if I were watching a film – a long interrogation with instructions such as ‘undress, get dressed’. Yuck, I don’t even want to think about it, let alone live it again.”
Unlike Djokovic, the men’s World No 1, Voracova did not appeal the decision to cancel her visa.
Djokovic was detained upon his initial entry into Australia last week but was released after winning his court battle to stay in the country.
The Serbian could still be sent home, however, with Australia’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke able to cancel his visa.
Djokovic has also been criticised after it emerged that he had attended a number of in-person events last month, despite testing positive for COVID-19.
He also admitted he made errors on his travel form into Australia, by ticking a box declaring he had not travelled anywhere 14 days prior to entering the country when, in fact, he had been to Spain.
While the Serbian challenged the cancellation of his visa, Voracova decided instead, to leave Australia ‘based on her own decision to end her participation in the tournament’, according to the Czech Foreign Ministry.
The Australian Government has reiterated that recent infection is not an acceptable reason for foreign nationals to gain entry without being fully vaccinated.
Elsewhere, Natalia Vikhlyantseva, a vaccinated Russian player, wants the same exemptions as Novak Djokovic after she was prevented from playing in the Australian Open because she had received the unrecognised Russian-made Sputnik jab.
The 24-year-old has been fully jabbed, but the vaccine used is not yet recognised by a number of Western countries, including Australia.
“For sure I was really upset that I can’t be in Australia with the whole tennis world,” she told ITV News.
“I know it was anonymous, how they did the exemptions, so I can’t say that something’s not right, but I feel that I can also play and I’m ready for all the tests.
“Just give me a chance to play.”
The WTA offered her an approved vaccine during the tour last year, but she declined, citing that she didn’t want it to affect her body’s performance.