Novak Djokovic has had his visa cancelled for a second time but could still play in the Australian Open.
The world number one had been waiting since a judge overturned the original decision on Monday to find out whether Immigration Minister Alex Hawke would use his powers to reimpose the penalty.
And, just before 6pm (7am UK time) on Friday, Hawke released a statement saying he had made the judgement to send Djokovic home “on health and good order grounds”.
But the legal process is far from at an end and both parties were back in front of Judge Anthony Kelly, who made Monday’s reversal, on Friday evening.
Djokovic’s legal team confirmed they will seek the same outcome this time at a virtual hearing at the Federal Court of Australia on Sunday, the day before his first-round match against fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic.
The world number one was allowed to stay at his rented accommodation on Friday night but will be detained again at 8am on Saturday morning prior to a meeting with immigration officials.
He will remain in detention while he meets with his legal team to prepare a case and then be held overnight, potentially back at the Park Hotel where he spent four nights last week.
Even if he wins, therefore, there must be major question marks over whether he will be in the right physical and mental state to compete at a grand slam regardless of his famous powers of resilience.
The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hawke’s legal representative, meanwhile, said the minister would not seek to deport Djokovic until proceedings were at an end, raising the possibility he could yet be sent home mid-tournament.
In his statement, Hawke said: “Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.
“This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds.
“In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic.
“The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The decision means Djokovic also faces a three-year ban from the country, which could mean he never plays at the Australian Open again, although that can be waived.
The situation has dominated global news since Djokovic was detained at Melbourne airport last Thursday morning after Border Force officials concluded he did not have the right paperwork to enter the country.
The nine-time Australian Open champion, who is unvaccinated, had received an exemption through Tennis Australia from strict coronavirus vaccination rules for arrivals into the country by virtue of having tested positive last month.
Two other individuals – Czech player Renata Voracova and an official – with the same exemption were subsequently told they could not stay in the country and left before Judge Kelly ruled in favour of Djokovic on Monday.
Unexpectedly, Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood told the hearing that Hawke’s decision was based not on the validity of the exemption, his threat to public health or concerns over his conduct or character but the potential for “exciting anti-vax sentiment” on the basis of two statements he made in 2020 and the effect on public order.
Djokovic headed straight to Melbourne Park after being freed from the hotel on Monday and has practised every day since, including early on Friday morning, but his hopes of staying in the country appeared to fade as the week went on following revelations about his behaviour.
Documents revealed Djokovic tested positive in Serbia on December 16 but he was photographed at events on the following two days and issued a statement earlier this week admitting he took part in an interview with French newspaper L’Equipe at his tennis centre in Belgrade despite knowing he had the virus.
He also admitted his declaration form falsely claimed he had not travelled in the 14 days prior to his trip to Australia, which he attributed to a mistake from his agent.
There has been strong criticism of the way the Australian Government has handled the situation but public opinion has been firmly in favour of Djokovic being sent home.
Sympathy has also been in short supply from his fellow players, many of whom were sceptical of taking the vaccine, with world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas telling India’s WION news channel: “A very small group chose to follow their own way and it kind of makes the majority look like they’re all fools.”
Andy Murray took a more conciliatory tone after his victory over Reilly Opelka in Sydney, saying: “It’s not a good situation. I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down. It’s not a good situation for anyone.
“I just want it obviously to get resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case. It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now, and it’s not great for tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak.”
Should he stay or should he go? The fate of tennis star Novak Djokovic, who could get kicked out of Australia before he has a chance to defend his Australia Open grand slam title, has caught public imagination in the country like never before.