Novak Djokovic may be free from immigration detention in Melbourne, but his visa saga looks far from over.
The World No.1 went for a late-night hit at Rod Laver Arena on Monday night after winning a legal battle to stay in Australia after his vaccination exemption was deemed insufficient and his visa was cancelled.
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The unvaccinated tennis star was released after being confined to an immigration hotel for four nights, in a drama that has gripped the world.
The judge ruled the No. 1 player had not been given enough time to speak to his lawyers before the decision was made to cancel his visa and ordered the government to release him from the Melbourne quarantine hotel where he was being held.
Posting a photo of himself with his team at Melbourne Park on Monday evening, Djokovic said he was determined to put the saga behind him and focused on winning a 10th Australian Open title.
“I’m pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen,” Djokovic said in the post.
I’m pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened,I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen
I remain focused on that. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans. 👇 pic.twitter.com/iJVbMfQ037
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 10, 2022
However, Djokovic could still be sent home after a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke suggested the federal government was considering whether to use its discretionary powers to cancel the Serb's visa.
The spokesperson said on Monday night that “it remains within Immigration Minister Hawke’s discretion to consider cancelling Mr Djokovic’s visa under his personal power of cancellation within section 133C(3) of the Migration Act.”
“The Minister is currently considering the matter and the process remains ongoing,” they said.
Government lawyer Christopher Tran had flagged such a scenario with the court, with any cancellation meaning Djokovic could be banned from entering Australia again for three years.
The back and forth has caused a furore in Australia, where many initially decried the news that Djokovic, who has been a vocal sceptic of vaccines, had received an exemption to strict rules to compete in Melbourne.
Many felt the star, who court documents say is not inoculated, was being given special treatment since Australians who aren’t vaccinated face tough travel and quarantine restrictions.
But when border police then blocked the 34-year-old on arrival, others cried foul, saying he was being scapegoated by an Australian government facing criticism for its recent handling of the pandemic.
The tennis star’s brother, Djordje Djokovic, told television network Prva in Belgrade, Serbia: “This is definitely politics, all this was politics."
Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal called the controversy “a circus” and said he supported the decision allowing his rival to play in Melbourne.
“Beyond me agreeing or not with Djokovic on certain things, there’s no question that justice has spoken and has said that he has the right to take part in the Australian Open,” Nadal said Monday during an interview with Spain’s Onda Cero radio.
At Monday's court hearing, Djokovic's lawyers argued their client did not need proof of vaccination because he had evidence that he had been infected with the coronavirus last month.
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Australian medical authorities have ruled that people who have been infected with COVID-19 within six months can receive a temporary exemption to the vaccination rule.
Judge Kelly noted that Djokovic had provided officials at Melbourne’s airport with a medical exemption given him by Tennis Australia and two medical panels.
“The point I’m somewhat agitated about is what more could this man have done?” Kelly asked Djokovic’s lawyer, Nick Wood.
Wood agreed that his client could not have done more, noting that transcripts of Djokovic’s interview with Border Force officials and his own affidavit revealed that he repeatedly told officers he had done everything he thought was required of him.
Djokovic’s lawyers described the cancellation as “seriously illogical.”
But lawyers for Home Affairs Minister Andrews said in their submission that the vaccination exemption could only be granted for travellers who had recovered from a serious bout of Covid-19.
“There is no suggestion that the applicant (Djokovic) had ‘acute major medical illness’ in December” when he tested positive, the written submission said.
But in the end, the government lawyers conceded that the decision to proceed with interviewing Djokovic in the early hours of Thursday and cancel his visa before he could contact Tennis Australia or his lawyers was unreasonable.
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