Novak Djokovic could have been GB sports star after UK tried to lure him from Serbia

Djokovic’s return: Australian Open players are 'not so happy'

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The Federal Circuit Court of Australia yesterday overturned the country’s government’s decision to refuse Novak Djokovic a visa upon his arrival in Melbourne last week. The world No1 spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel as the saga twisted and turned in several directions. Despite winning the court hearing on Monday, the Serb’s fate lies in Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke’s hands.

Mr Hawke has the personal power to again cancel Djokovic’s visa and can have him deported.

He would have to be satisfied that there were grounds for cancellation — such as a threat to public safety — and that cancellation would be in the public interest.

Any decision would likely be met by a new legal challenge from Djokovic’s team, as well as a request to be excused from immigration detention so that he could play in the Australian Open, which begins next week.

Should he be allowed to play, Djokovic will be hoping to defend his Australian Open title, and is chasing a male record 21st Grand Slam singles title.

While he has proudly played for his native Serbia for over a decade, things could have been different if a decision by the Lawn Tennis Association [LTA] had gone through.

In 2006, British men’s tennis was stagnating: a young Andy Murray had arrived but was far off from his peak, and the country needed a young shining star to light up the turf at Wimbledon.

Greg Rusedski, the Canadian-born British tennis player, was at the time proving more successful than Tim Henman.

In the Eighties, he adopted British citizenship and decided to play for Great Britain, much to the annoyance of his native country.

His success led the LTA to look outside the British Isles for young talent, and a young Djokovic came to their attention when he defeated Rusedski in a Davis Cup match in April 2006.

A month later he reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final and won his first two ATP titles that summer, with Britain making their move to poach him after the Davis Cup match.

According to a report in The Guardian at the time, the LTA spoke to his mother, offering better funding and facilities in exchange for switching to play for Britain — though the process would have taken up to six years to complete.

Unlike Rusedski, who had been living on British soil for several years before switching nationalities — his mother had also been born in the UK — the Djokovic family had no such links.

Under the International Tennis Federation’s rule, a two-year residency was required rather than citizenship, so Djokovic might have been able to play for Britain in the Davis Cup after just three years.

He attempted to distance himself from the speculation, however, telling reporters in May 2006: “It’s big pressure, for sure, from my country, from the media and from the people. I just don’t want to talk or think about it any more.”

The LTA continued in their attempts, arguing that Serbia, the country Djokovic represents, no longer existed after Montenegro’s vote for independence.

Roger Draper, who had just taken up a new role as the LTA’s chief executive, said: “The ball is in their court, that’s the bottom line.

“We cannot do anything until they make the decision.”

Mr Draper made wholesale changes upon his arrival at the LTA, sacking numerous key figures, and hoped to follow cricket’s path by importing overseas talent.

At the time there were just three British men in the top 100, and no women at all.

Ultimately, the bid failed because Djokovic did not want to switch.

In 2009, he said: “Britain was offering me a lot of opportunities and they needed someone because Andy [Murray] was the only one, and still is.

“That had to be a disappointment for all the money they invest.

“But I didn’t need the money as much as I had done. I had begun to make some for myself, enough to afford to travel with a coach, and I said, ‘Why the heck?’ I am Serbian, I am proud of being a Serbian, I didn’t want to spoil that just because another country had better conditions.”

He added: “If I had played for Great Britain, of course I would have played exactly as I do for my country but deep inside, I would never have felt that I belonged.”

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