Novak Djokovic will spend the weekend in immigration detention in Melbourne as he makes a last-ditch attempt to appear in the Australian Open.
The world No 1’s visa was cancelled for a second time on Friday as the chaos he has brought to the tournament continued. Djokovic’s lawyers immediately appealed the ruling from the Australian Government relating to his Covid breaches.
Rather than being on the practice courts ahead of his title defence, Djokovic faced spending more time with his lawyers and at a secure hotel as they mounted a last-ditch attempt to allow him to stay and compete.
With the tournament allocating his half of the draw a Monday start, and with legal proceedings only concluding on Sunday, he could almost go straight from one court to another. Yet that would be dependent on a new judge again overturning the decision to expel him from the country.
Never in tennis history has there been a build up to a Grand Slam like this, with a nine-times champion causing maximum mayhem through his determination to find a vaccination loophole.
Novak Djokovic will spend the weekend in a detention centre after his visa was recancelled
Djokovic will be held in the centre in the final days before the Australian Open gets underway
Whatever happens with his appeal, Djokovic’s preparations for the tournament have been severely hampered, although he has an ideal first-round match on Monday night, local time, against Miomir Kecmanovic, a relatively inexperienced fellow Serbian.
It all remains dependent on whether his crack legal team can unpick the decision by immigration minister Alex Hawke to eject him.
Should the decision go against Djokovic, then it would be accompanied by a three-year ban from setting foot in the country — although the government has the power to forego that.
His verdict was handed down in low-key fashion late Friday afternoon in Australia, with the delay frustrating Djokovic’s lawyers, who immediately lodged an appeal.
Djokovic’s lawyers (pictured: their office in Melbourne) lodged an appeal after the latest twist
By 8.45pm they had secured an emergency court hearing to prevent him from being booted out. That ended at 11pm with the player being told that he would be formally detained nine hours later at a secret location to avoid a media and public circus.
Djokovic should finally learn his fate by Sunday evening, although everything is in the hands of Justice O’Callaghan, of the Federal Court. Hawke ended a wait of four days by announcing that he was cancelling the world No 1’s visa ‘on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so’.
Djokovic’s lawyer, Nick Wood, later told the court that the basis of it was, essentially, that his continued presence would excite anti-vaccination sentiment.
While the extent of the government’s case was not immediately laid out, Wood added that they would attack the minister’s reasoning, which he described as ‘patently irrational’.
Djokovic faces a nervous waiting game to find out whether he can compete in Melbourne
Legal observers in Australia pointed out that this case was entirely different to Monday’s, when Djokovic was initially granted a stay of execution. Due to the personal powers of the minister, the government has a lower bar to get over in convincing the judge of its technical argument that he should not be allowed to stay.
Forcing Djokovic to leave the country would play well with the Australian public who, according to polls, would like to see that happen by a majority of around four to one.
However, Djokovic’s team will argue that he is in ‘good standing’ and not a threat to the population, despite there being discrepancies in his visa application. If he wins his appeal, then it appears unlikely that the government will again try to throw him out.