Tennis star Novak Djokovic says he wants to stay in Melbourne and compete in the Australian Open after winning his visa court battle.
The world number one and defending champion may still be deported from Australia, as the country’s immigration minister is considering the case and could overrule the decision.
Djokovic latest: Deportation threat lingers despite court ruling
Djokovic, who has now returned to the tennis court, 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.”
He added: “For now I cannot say more but THANK YOU all for standing with me through all this and encouraging me to stay strong.”
The photo was taken at Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open – which starts on 17 January.
The Serbian star was earlier allowed to leave a detention hotel in the city after a judge said the decision to revoke his visa was unreasonable.
He had been held there for four nights in a dispute over whether he was exempt from the rule requiring non-residents to have a COVID vaccination to enter Australia.
Djokovic‘s lawyers say a coronavirus infection last month means he can legally enter the country.
The player’s brother told reporters that “truth and justice” had won and that the family were “grateful for the justice system”.
Djokovic’s brother appeared with his mother and father at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital.
Novak has been ‘bullied’ – brother
“It has been a massive challenge for us as a family,” said Djordje Djokovic.
“We have done everything we can to comply with all the protocols. We are very emotional and it’s very difficult for us to defend Novak without offending anyone.
“Truth and justice have come out and I hereby want to thank Australia’s legal system and judge Kelly, who has been unbiased and neutral as he took on board all the facts since he landed at Melbourne airport, including the bullying he’s been through.”
Dozens of fans, many adorned with the Serbian flag, celebrated the verdict outside the court and at the office of Djokovic’s lawyer.
Judge Anthony Kelly said Djokovic had provided border officials with a medical exemption given to him by Tennis Australia and two medical panels.
“The point I’m somewhat agitated about is what more could this man have done?” Mr Kelly said.
The judge quashed the decision to revoke the visa and said Djokovic had not been given enough time to respond after being notified of the cancellation.
Djokovic ‘had COVID twice and is unvaccinated’
The Serbian star had told border officials he was unvaccinated and had been infected with COVID twice, according to a transcript of an interview revealed in court.
He had never publicly revealed his vaccination status but previously said he would not want to be compelled to get a jab to travel or play.
Airport officials also made him switch off his phone from midnight to around 7.42am, when the decision to cancel his visa was made, the judge added.
His mother, Dijana Djokovic, told reporters the family were scared when they could not communicate with him.
“We didn’t know if he was sick or hungry,” she said. “There are certain things as a mother that I can’t get over – I think all mothers of the world would understand me.”
Lawyers for immigration minister Alex Hawke have said he reserves the right to revoke the visa again.
“The minister is currently considering the matter and the process remains ongoing,” a spokesperson added.
Djokovic’s lawyers told the court he had recently had COVID and “was entitled to a medical exemption in accordance with Australian government rules”.
They filed papers that showed he tested positive last month and recovered.
Analysis: Case a 'career-defining moment'
He provided evidence before he travelled and when he landed on Wednesday, the court heard.
Lawyers also showed that the 34-year-old had received a letter from Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer on 30 December stating that he had been exempted.
However, government lawyers said travellers could only be exempt from vaccination if they had been seriously sick with COVID.
“There is no suggestion that the applicant (Djokovic) had ‘acute major medical illness’ in December” when he tested positive,” they told the court.
Questions over images without mask
The Australian Open is Djokovic’s big chance to go one ahead of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as the winner of the most Grand Slams.
He has already won the tournament nine times – but if he is deported he will be barred from the country for three years.
Djokovic’s case has polarised opinions, especially in Australia, which has endured some of the toughest and longest COVID lockdowns in the world.
It has also caused a political row after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “rules are rules” and that he would be on the “next plane home” if his exemption was not valid.
There have also been questions in recent days after photos emerged of Djokovic – without a mask – with young players the day after he is said to have tested positive.
It is not clear if he knew the results of his test at the time.
On the day he tested positive he was also presented with a stamp by the Serbian postal service, an event he tweeted about the next day.
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