Djokovic to be deported after legal challenge dismissed

Novak Djokovic leaving his hotel earlier today. Photo: Getty Images
Novak Djokovic leaving his hotel earlier today. Photo: Getty Images

Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic said in a statement on Sunday that he was "extremely disappointed" with the decision to cancel his visa to enter Australia, but would cooperate with the authorities in relation to his departure from the country.

The Serbian champion said he hoped the focus would now return to tennis and the Australian Open Grand Slam, which starts in Melbourne on Monday.

Djokovic had appealed Immigration Minister Alex Hawke's decision to cancel his visa on the grounds that he was a threat to public order because his presence would encourage anti-vaccination sentiment amid Australia's worst COVID-19 outbreak.

"I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this," the 34-year-old said in a statement after the court dismissed his case.

"I am extremely disappointed with the Court ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the Minister's decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open.

"I respect the Court's ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country."

Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, was granted a medical exemption to compete at the Melbourne Park major, a tournament he has won nine times including the last three editions.

His fate was finally decided after a rollercoaster 10 days that saw him detained by authorities, released and then detained again ahead of the Australian Open, which starts on Monday.

Rafa Nadal, who is tied with Djokovic on 20 major titles, said "too many questions" still needed to be answered concerning the Serb's bid to play the tournament, while other leading players lamented how Slam has been overshadowed by the saga.

"I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love," Djokovic said, while also thanking those that supported him.

"I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament."

Novak Djokovic has been allowed to practice at Melbourne Park since his arrival. Photo: Reuters
Novak Djokovic has been allowed to practice at Melbourne Park since his arrival. Photo: Reuters

'TIRED OF THE SITUATION'

The build-up to the Australian Open tournament, set to start on Monday, has been eclipsed by the drama over the unvaccinated star's bid to play.

Spanish great Rafael Nadal, tied with Djokovic for 20 Grand Slam titles, was one of several top players in town who said they just wanted the circus to be over.

Djokovic, who is the men's top ranked player and is chasing a record 21st Grand Slam win, spent Saturday night at Melbourne's Park Hotel, according to a Reuters witness, returning to the same immigration detention hotel where he was held for four nights last week.

A judge had freed him on Monday after finding the decision to cancel his visa on arrival had been unreasonable. Djokovic has declined to be vaccinated against coronavirus and had sought to enter the country with a medical exemption from rules mandating all visitors to be vaccinated.

Court documents released after an initial hearing on Saturday showed Hawke had justified his decision on the grounds that Djokovic's presence could whip up more anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia at a time that the country is in the midst of its worst outbreak of the virus.

"Although I ... accept that Mr Djokovic poses a negligible individual risk of transmitting Covid-19 to other persons, I nonetheless consider that his presence may be a risk to the health of the Australian community," Hawke said in a letter to Djokovic and his legal team.

Djokovic's medical exemption from vaccine requirements to play in the Open prompted widespread anger in Australia, which has undergone some the world's toughest Covid lockdowns and where more than 90% of adults are vaccinated, but where hospitalisation rates continue to hit record highs.

The controversy over the tennis player has become a political touchstone for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he prepares for an election due by May.

His government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, but it has faced criticism for its handling of Djokovic's visa application.

Djokovic's leading rivals have become increasingly impatient with the uncertainty hanging over the draw and the cloud hanging over their sport.

"Honestly, I'm little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it's important to talk about our sport, about tennis," Nadal, told reporters at Melbourne Park, where the event will be played.

German Alexander Zverev, the world No 3 , said Djokovic had been treated unfairly and that the Serb might have been used as a political pawn by Australian authorities, something Canberra has denied.

"This is obviously not a nice thing for everyone, for him especially," Zverev said. But don't question his legacy because of this."

Djokovic, who is scheduled to play fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovi in the first round of the Open, could still withdraw and leave Australia of his own accord rather than suffer the humiliation of being deported.

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