Novak Djokovic fighting deportation over Covid vaccine storm at Australian Open

World No 1 appeals after visa revoked despite being granted a medical exemption to play in Melbourne

Novak Djokovic holds the trophy after winning the Australian Open in February, 2021. AP
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Novak Djokovic has been given a reprieve in his bid to defend his Australian Open title after the Federal Court of Australia adjourned his appeal against the decision to refuse him a visa.

Djokovic has challenged the Australian Border Force’s decision to cancel his visa application and deport the nine-time Australian Open champion and his appeal has been adjourned until 10am on Monday in Melbourne, court officials said.

The world No 1 has been told by the Federal Court of Australia that he can remain in Melbourne until his appeal resumes.

Djokovic had his visa to enter Australia revoked on his arrival amid a storm of protest about a decision to grant him a medical exemption from Covid-19 vaccination.

The Serbian star was transported to a quarantine hotel in Melbourne after being held at the city's airport overnight before border forces announced he had not met entry rules and would be deported.

The developments come amid a row about the country's handling of a record surge in new Covid infections, and has created an international incident with the Serbian president claiming harassment of its star player.

Australia's Border Force confirmed Djokovic's visa had been revoked, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a televised media briefing: "There are no special cases, rules are rules.

"We will continue to make the right decisions when it comes to securing Australian borders in relation to this pandemic."

Djokovic, who has consistently refused to disclose his vaccination status while publicly criticising mandatory vaccines, kicked off the incident when he announced on Instagram that he had received a medical exemption to pursue a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, which starts on January 17.

The announcement prompted an outcry in Australia, particularly in host city of Melbourne, which has endured the world's longest cumulative lockdown to ward off the coronavirus.

However, the move by the Australian government to block his entry caused ructions between Canberra and Belgrade.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he had spoken with Djokovic to reassure the player "that the whole of Serbia is with him and that our bodies are doing everything to see that the harassment of the world's best tennis player is brought to an end immediately.

"In line with all norms of international law, Serbia will fight for Novak, truth and justice," Vucic said on Twitter.

Morrison said he was aware that "representations have been made" by the Serbian embassy in Canberra and denied the claims of harassment.

"Australia has sovereign borders and clear rules that are non-discriminatory," Morrison said.

Djokovic's 20 Grand Slams

Serbian media reported that Vucic had summoned the Australian ambassador in Belgrade and demanded Djokovic be released and allowed to play.

Djokovic's father told media in Serbia that his son was ushered into an isolation room under police guard when he touched down at Melbourne's Tullamarine airport on Wednesday evening after a 14-hour flight from Dubai.

During Djokovic's questioning at the airport, his coach Goran Ivanisevic posted a photograph on Instagram of himself and the Serb's other backroom staff, waiting at the airport for a resolution.

"Not the most usual trip Down Under," wrote the former Wimbledon champion.

Djokovic travelled to Australia after receiving an exemption from the Victorian government, granted after a process that included a panel of health officials. That exemption - the reasons for which are not known - supported his federal government-issued visa to play at the Australian Open.

On arrival, however, Federal Border Force officials at the airport said Djokovic was unable to justify the grounds for his exemption.

Tennis Australia and government officials said Djokovic received no preferential treatment, adding he was among "a handful" of the 26 people who applied who were approved in an anonymous and independent process.

With just 11 days to go until the Open starts, a legal challenge could go all the way to the High Court.

Updated: January 06, 2022, 10:09 AM