Novak Djokovic trains for Australian Open but threat of deportation remains


Novak Djokovic woke up on Tuesday to his first morning outside immigration detention in Australia, almost a week after he flew into the country – and into an international furore over his Covid-19 vaccination status.

However, the world number one still faces the threat of being detained by the federal government for a second time and deported, despite Monday’s court ruling quashing the government’s earlier decision to cancel his visa.

Djokovic was back in training hours after winning that court challenge, thanking the judge who released him from immigration detention and saying he remained focused on trying to win a record 21st tennis major at next week’s Australian Open.

“I am pleased and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation,” Djokovic wrote on Twitter, where he posted a photograph of himself on court at Melbourne Park after a chaotic few days. “Despite all that has happened I want to stay and try to compete at the Australian Open.”

Djokovic’s plight drew international attention, creating a political spat between Canberra and Belgrade and fuelling heated debates over mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policies.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office said he spoke with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic on Monday. Morrison’s office said the Australian leader had “explained our non-discriminatory border policy,” while Serbian media reports said Brnabic emphasised the importance of Djokovic being able to prepare for the tournament. Both said they agreed to stay in contact on the issue.

John Alexander, a member of Morrison’s Liberal Party and a former professional tennis player, said it would be a mistake for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to use his discretionary powers to deport the Serbian player.

To do so would “diminish” the status of the Australian Open, Alexander said.

“We had previously been the poor cousin of the four events,” he said. “We’ve got a lot going for us, but we need to treat it carefully.”

Hawke’s office said late on Monday the minister was still considering whether he would use his discretion under the Migration Act to cancel Djokovic’s visa for a second time. Spokespeople for the minister did not return calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

The ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis applauded the court ruling, saying the dispute was “damaging on all fronts, including for Novak’s well-being and preparation for the Australian Open.”

The ATP said the situation highlighted the need for clearer understanding and communication of the rules. It said it strongly recommends all players get vaccinated and noted that 97 per cent of the top 100 players are vaccinated.

Judge Anthony Kelly said he quashed the decision to block Djokovic’s entry because the player had not been given enough time to respond to it.

Novak Djokovic’s brother Djordje held a press conference in Belgrade on Monday. Photograph: Padja Milosavljevic/Getty/AFP
Novak Djokovic’s brother Djordje held a press conference in Belgrade on Monday. Photograph: Padja Milosavljevic/Getty/AFP

Officials at Melbourne’s airport, where Djokovic was detained when he landed late on Wednesday, had reneged on an agreement to give him until 8.30am to speak to Tennis Australia and lawyers, Kelly said.

Djokovic received the medical exemption because he contracted Covid-19 last month – the second time he had been infected. The player, who has long opposed mandatory vaccination, confirmed he was unvaccinated.

Kelly’s ruling did not directly address the issue of whether that exemption was valid, a fact the government had disputed.

The Australian Open begins on January 17th Djokovic has won the tournament for the past three years and nine times in all.

Spain’s Rafa Nadal, who is tied on 20 majors with Djokovic and Switzerland’s Roger Federer, called the fraught build-up to the tournament a “circus” and said the “fairest decision” had been made.

Nick Kyrgios said while he supported vaccination he felt “embarrassed as an Australian athlete, seeing what this guy has done for us and the sport. I just don’t think it’s right how we are handling it.”

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