Australian Open thrown into chaos as Novak Djokovic faces Sunday court hearing after government cancels visa again

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  • Novak Djokovic
    Novak Djokovic
    Serbian tennis player
Novak Djokovic Australian Open - AFP
Novak Djokovic Australian Open - AFP

The Australian Open was plunged into further confusion and controversy on Friday after the Novak Djokovic deportation debacle threatened to derail the start of the tournament.

The world number one was facing another courtroom showdown with the Australian government on the eve of his first match at the year’s first grand slam following the decision by the country’s immigration minister to cancel his visa.

Alex Hawke’s ruling also saw Djokovic facing another night in a detention facility ahead of his hearing, leaving his plans to prepare for what he hoped would be a record 21st major title in tatters.

But it also threw plans for the whole tournament into disarray, with organisers confirming Djokovic’s first-round match against his fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic would remain scheduled for its opening day, leaving themselves just 48 hours to resolve the furore. Contingency plans have been drawn up in case Djokovic, the top seed and reigning champion, is thrown out of the country.

A “lucky loser” from the qualifying tournament would come in to face Kecmanovic, but while this would ensure the tournament could proceed as planned, it would lead to an unbalanced draw which would leave Matteo Berrettini – the seventh seed from Italy – as the highest-ranked player in the top quarter.

Sunday's hearing – at 9.30am in Melbourne (10.30pm on Saturday in the UK) – at least looked to settle the matter once and for all, with seemingly no more scope for further appeals to secure Djokovic’s release in time to begin the defence of his crown.

But the fallout from the case was certain to overshadow the tournament completely, with Djokovic’s entry into Australia without being vaccinated against coronavirus having split the public and the sport.

Sir Andy Murray, a long-time friend and rival of Djokovic, said the Serb had to accept the “consequences” of refusing to get jabbed.

“Ultimately, people have to make their own choices,” said the two-time Wimbledon champion. “But there are also consequences sometimes for those decisions, as well.”

The Scot, who announced he received his booster before flying to Australia himself, added: “The lady who gave me my third jab, she works in the hospital in Central London, and she told me that every single person that is in ICU [intensive care unit] and on ventilators are all people that are unvaccinated.

“I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down. Obviously, a lot of people have criticised the government here, as well. It’s not been good.”

Andy Murray of Great Britain reacts during his quarter final match against David Goffin of Belgium on Day 4 - Shutterstock
Andy Murray of Great Britain reacts during his quarter final match against David Goffin of Belgium on Day 4 - Shutterstock

Sue Barker, the face of the BBC’s tennis coverage and former French Open champion, told Radio 4: “My sympathy has gone now because I feel enough has happened and it’s now distracting from the whole tournament. This is a grand slam.

“We wanted the No1 player in the world. He could have been there by being vaccinated. I know he’s chosen not to and that is his right, but it is also his choice and with that choice comes consequences and this is why he is where is now.”

She added: “I’ve had Covid. I know people that have suffered so badly through this.

“The Australian public has had the strictest rules possible, I can’t imagine what they are feeling. So many of them who weren’t even allowed to travel, let alone internationally, they weren’t allowed to travel inter-state to visit sick or dying relatives.”

Djokovic hopes case will begin before match

Djokovic was due to be taken back into detention on Friday evening ahead of a court hearing overnight tonight UK time into a decision that would also see him banned from re-entering Australia for three years.

Friday’s ruling followed days of deliberation by Hawke, who announced the world number one tennis player and poster boy for coronavirus vaccine sceptics should be thrown out of the country “on health and good order grounds”.

Djokovic sought an injunction to prevent him being deported immediately, with his lawyer telling a court hearing Hawke’s ruling was made on the basis that allowing the Serb to remain in the country had the “potential for exciting anti-vaxx sentiment”.

Alex Hawke Australia immigration minister - AAP
Alex Hawke Australia immigration minister - AAP

Proceedings were referred to the Federal Court, with the 34-year-old facing a grilling by immigration officials at 9pm (8am Saturday local time) and a meeting with his lawyers two hours later before spending the night back in either Melbourne’s infamous Park Hotel or a similar such facility.

He had been held for four days at the ad-hoc centre for refugees when his visa was first cancelled by border officials just over a week ago over his Covid-19 vaccination status, a decision a judge overturned because he had not been given enough time to speak to lawyers.

He was facing an even tougher battle to get back on court than that he won last week, with Australian law affording Hawke huge powers of discretion in cancelling a visa.

Djokovic’s lawyer, Nick Wood, indicated during a hearing on Friday that his case would focus on Hawke’s determination that the Serb’s ongoing presence risked undermining vaccination efforts.

Wood branded that argument “patently irrational”, accusing Hawke of failing to consider the impact deporting, and potentially martyring, Djokovic would have on those same efforts.

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