Novak Djokovic is seen during the semifinals of the 2021 Australian Open on February 18 at Melbourne Park. His status for the 2022 tournament is uncertain. File Photo by Dean Lewins/EPA-EFE
Jan. 10 (UPI) -- An Australian judge on Monday ordered that the cancellation of Novak Djokovic's visa be overturned following days of uncertainty over whether the tennis star would be allowed to stay to defend his Australian Open title.
Djokovic, who has not been vaccinated against COVID-19, was attempting to enter Australia last week to compete for a fourth straight championship in this month's tournament when his entry visa was rejected over his unvaccinated status, which violates immigration rules, putting his future in the competition at risk.
The Serbian tennis star had argued that he was allowed to enter the country as he was granted a medical exemption Dec. 30 by an independent expert medical review panel that was endorsed by Victoria State on the grounds he was recently infected with and had recovered from COVID-19. However, public backlash forced the government to take another look at Djokovic's case. Unvaccinated Australians are subject to strict travel and quarantine measures.
On Monday during a virtual hearing, for which Djokovic was allowed to leave detention to attend, Judge Anthony Kelly read the order, stating the cancellation of the visa be "quashed" and for Djokovic be released within 30 minutes. His passport and personal effects were also to be returned.
In his comments to the court, Kelly said it was "unreasonable" for immigration officials to tell Djokovic on Thursday morning that he had until 8:30 a.m. to provide comments over their consideration to cancel his visa but then go through with the action at 7:42 a.m.
Novak Djokovic of Serbia kisses the Australian Open championship trophy after defeating Daniil Medvedev of Russia on February 21 to win his ninth title at the event in Melbourne. It is uncertain whether he will be allowed to defend his title this year. File Photo by Dean Lewins/EPA-EFE
"Had the applicant been allowed until 8:30 a.m., he could have consulted others and made further submissions to the delegate about why his visa should not be canceled," Kelly said.
Djokovic's future in the upcoming tournament is still unclear as government counsel Christopher Tran informed the court that Alex Hawke, the minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, is considering whether to exercise his personal powers under the law to again cancel the visa.
If Hawke orders Djokovic to be deported, he would not be able to compete in the 2022 Australian Open. If that happens, Djokovic would not be allowed to return to Australia for three years -- meaning he couldn't compete in the 2023 and 2024 tournaments, either.
Kelly said he appreciated Tran's "candor" about the revelation, stating that if he had found out about the minister considering cancelling Djokovic's visa later in the night or the next morning, "it is fair to say I could have been something approaching incandescent."
"The stakes have now risen rather than receded, and I'm very concerned," he said.
Djokovic, the world No. 1 men's player, said Monday that he wants to stay in Australia and compete at the tournament, which is one of four Grand Slams on the tennis calendar -- which are the top tournaments of the year.
"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 at the Australian Open," he tweeted. "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," he added.
Last year's Australian Open was delayed by three weeks by COVID-19, which put it in early to mid-February. This year's tournament is scheduled to begin on Jan. 17 and run through Jan. 30.