‘Grateful’: Novak Djokovic thanks judge and takes to tennis court after release
Novak Djokovic has ended an extraordinary day in Melbourne back on a tennis court and with his sights set on next week’s Australian Open after winning an appeal against his visa cancellation.
The world No1 tennis player had spent four days in an immigration detention centre after being refused permission to enter Australia due to being unvaccinated. However on a day of high drama, that decision was overturned following a seven hour hearing, leaving a jubilant Djokovic free – for now – to focus on winning a record 21st grand slam title.
Djokovic later thanked the judge in a tweet alongside a photograph that showed him on court at the Rod Laver Arena, on the site of the Australian Open.
“I’m pleased and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation,” he wrote. “Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete at the Australian Open.”
“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.”
However there may yet be a further twist in the tale. Australia’s immigration minister, Alex Hawke, has confirmed that he is considering the use of discretionary powers to deport Djokovic, with his decision expected later this week.
Djokovic tweeted his message while his family – parents Srdjan and Dijana, and younger brother Djordje – were holding a news conference in Belgrade.
Dijana Djokovic claimed overturning the decision to revoke her son’s visa was the “biggest victory” of her son’s career – before alleging he had suffered “torture” while staying at an immigration hotel where refugees and asylum seekers have long complained of poor conditions.
“It is bigger than any grand slam,” she added. “He hasn’t broken any of their laws and he was subjected to torture, to harassment.”
Meanwhile, Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, hailed his son’s victory as a victory for the free world.
“Over the past few days, it’s been very, very difficult for everyone in the world who is free thinking,” he said. “But he is mentally extremely, extremely strong. They took away all his rights as a human being. He refused to revoke his visa. They gave him no right to prepare his defence for several hours, and they took away his phone. Fortunately they gave him back his phone. He contacted his legal team who mounted a fantastic defence, that they could not match.”
However when Djordje Djokovic was asked about whether his brother Novak had attended an event with young children in Serbia on the 17 December – a day after the legal documents indicated a positive test for Covid-19 – Djordje immediately ended the press conference.
Photographs on the Belgrade Tennis Association’s Facebook page posted on the 17 December show Djokovic posing with a group of young people at a tennis awards ceremony. Meanwhile the French newspaper L’Equipe has said that the 20-time slam champion also posed for a photoshoot with them on 18 December.
Earlier Judge Anthony Kelly had ordered the release of Djokovic, saying it was “unreasonable” for Australian Border Force officials to interview him on Thursday morning and cancel his visa in circumstances when they had agreed to give him until 8.30am to speak to officials and respond to the proposed visa cancellation.
“We all play by the same rules,” Judge Kelly said. “Stated in other terms: those rules were not observed.”
Court documents show Djokovic’s reason for seeking a medical exemption from Australia’s vaccination requirements was that he contracted Covid in mid-December.
This was accepted by Tennis Australia and the Victorian state governments medical panels which granted him the exemption on 30 December, but border force officials decided Djokovic had not satisfied federal entry requirements.
As the news of his release filtered through, Djokovic’s supporters gathered at his lawyer’s office in central Melbourne to celebrate. Later police pepper sprayed some fans who blocked the path of a car they believed was carrying Djokovic, with some supporters banging on the window, throwing bottles at the vehicle and even jumping up and down on top of it.