Novak Djokovic is “pleased and grateful” that his appeal against a decision to refuse him a visa in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia was successful and he wants to “stay and try to compete” at the Australian Open.
Judge Anthony Kelly quashed the visa cancellation and ordered the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release the Serbian from detention within half an hour.
But Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke is still considering whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation of Djokovic’s visa in a process that could drag on for a number of days.
The world number one tweeted: “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.
“For now I cannot say more but THANK YOU all for standing with me through all this and encouraging me to stay strong.”
At a press conference staged by the Djokovic family in Belgrade, his mother Dijana described her son’s successful appeal as “the biggest win of his career – bigger than any of the grand slams he has won”.
She added: “He has done nothing wrong. He hasn’t broken any of their laws, but he was subjected to torture, to harassment.
“He fought against that system and against that government because he thought had the right to be there with the visa that he got, and he went there to win that tournament.”
Djokovic’s brother Djordje revealed that he has already returned to the tennis court for the first time since his detention as he bids to make up for lost time ahead of his prospective start next week.
“Novak is free – a few moments ago he trained on a tennis court,” Djordje said.
“He went to Australia to play tennis, to try to win another Australian Open and to win a record that he has been chasing for so many years.”
But in a sign of the unease still surrounding the situation, the Djokovic family ended the press conference when the focus turned to his reported positive test on December 16, refusing to answer questions about whether he attended public events in the days that followed.
And Djokovic’s plans could still be scuppered if Hawke exercises his right to over-rule the court’s decision.
Widely quoted in Australia, a spokesman for Hawke said: “Following today’s Federal Circuit and Family Court determination on a procedural ground, 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.”
It was reported Hawke may have only a four-hour window in which to consider cancellation of Djokovic’s visa, but the rule did not apply in this case because the 34-year-old had not been re-interviewed.
Governing body the ATP welcomed the court’s decision, but called for greater clarity over the rules while urging players to be vaccinated in anticipation of tighter restrictions.
A statement on Monday evening read: “The ATP fully respects the sacrifices the people of Australia have made since the onset of Covid-19 and the stringent immigration policies that have been put in place.
“Complications in recent days related to player entry into Australia have, however, highlighted the need for clearer understanding, communication and application of the rules.
“In travelling to Melbourne, it’s clear Novak Djokovic believed he had been granted a necessary medical exemption in order to comply with entry regulations.
“We welcome the outcome of Monday’s hearing and look forward to an exciting few weeks of tennis ahead.”
The statement continued: “More broadly, ATP continues to strongly recommend vaccination for all players on the ATP Tour, which we believe is essential for our sport to navigate the pandemic.
“This is based on scientific evidence supporting the health benefits provided and to comply with global travel regulations, which we anticipate will become stricter over time.”
Amid continued confusion over Djokovic’s fate, Serbian supporters clashed with police outside the court building and Goran Djokovic, the player’s uncle, accused the authorities of treating the reigning Australian Open champion like “an animal” in an interview with GB News.
Earlier, Djokovic was removed from detention to be with his lawyers during the hearing, and Judge Anthony Kelly expressed agitation over the rejection of Djokovic’s medical exemption.
After Djokovic’s lawyers argued their case, Judge Kelly asked the court “What more could this man have done?” in relation to fulfilling the expected requirements for a medical exemption.
The minutes of the court transcript also noted that Djokovic had not been given adequate time to respond to the notification to cancel his visa.
At a press conference, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked by a reporter to respond to comments from Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley stating he was given conflicting government advice on medical exemptions.
Morrison said: “Well, the matter is before the court so I can’t comment on the matter before the court – but in relation to the government, our government, the federal government’s advice to Tennis Australia, that was set out very clearly in November, as I read the extract from this very podium, it could not be more clear.”
It was revealed in court documents submitted by Djokovic’s lawyers that the player had been infected with Covid-19 in December 2021. The documents said the infection was the basis of Djokovic’s medical exemption.
The documents also noted that Djokovic expressed “shock”, “surprise”, and “confusion” when he was notified of his visa cancellation “given that (as he understood it) he had done everything he was required to enter Australia”.
But Australia’s Home Affairs Department filed court documents in which it stated “there is no such thing as an assurance of entry by a non-citizen into Australia” and noted that the Minister has the power to cancel Djokovic’s visa a second time if the court rules in his favour.
In the transcript of his interview with Australian Border Force, when asked to confirm his vaccination status at the border, Djokovic responded: “I am not vaccinated.”
Djokovic’s rival Rafael Nadal described the decision to allow the appeal as “totally correct”.