Novak Djokovic has been deported from Australia after failing to overturn a court’s decision to cancel his visa.
The tennis champion was pictured walking through Melbourne Airport before boarding a flight.
Australia's immigration minister Alex Hawke confirmed the sportsman, who is unvaccinated against Covid, had left the country.
Djokovic's appeal was rejected by judges after the government cancelled his visa on “health and good order” grounds.
The decision meant the nine-times champion will not be able to defend his title at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday. He is also banned from the country for three years — although that can be waived.
The verdict from Chief Justice James Allsop came after a unanimous decision from the three judges hearing the case at the Federal Court of Australia on Sunday.
The tennis star said in a statement he was “extremely disappointed” by the quashing of the appeal but agreed to co-operate with the deportation.
“I would like to make a brief statement to address the outcomes of today’s court hearing,” the statement read. “I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this.
“I am extremely disappointed with the ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the minister’s decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open.
“I respect the court’s ruling and I’ll co-operate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.
“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love. I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.
“Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me.”
The three judges deliberated for a little over two hours before Chief Justice Allsop delivered the verdict just before 6pm in Melbourne having heard submissions from both parties earlier in the day.
The case sparked protests outside a Melbourne hotel where the sportsman was detained, with many of Djokovic's supporters criticising the Australian government's treatment of him.
The Serbian national has won the men's Australian Open a record nine times and was the top seed at this year's event.
Djokovic, 34, had his visa revoked on Friday after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke enacted his broad discretionary powers under Australia's Migration Act.
Nick Wood, acting for Djokovic, said his client was not a threat to public safety, adding that he had competed in the Australian Open and other major tournaments around the world last year without provoking protests or unrest from anti-vaccination campaigners.
“If there was any foundation for thinking that Mr Djokovic's presence and participation at a tennis tournament might somehow lead to this anti-vax sentiment, one would expect that it would be supported by some kind of evidence about anti-vax protests or rallies or the like at tennis events,” Mr Wood said.
He argued that the forced removal of Djokovic may spur the anti-vaccination movement and protests.
The three judges hearing the case, Justice Allsop, Justice Anthony Besanko and Justice David O’Callaghan, are working remotely.
Mr Hawke said he had cancelled the visa on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”. His statement added that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic".
Mr Morrison himself welcomed Djokovic’s pending deportation. The whole episode has touched a nerve in Australia, and particularly in Victoria state, where locals went through hundreds of days of lockdowns during the worst of the pandemic and there is a vaccination rate among adults of more than 90 per cent.
Australia is currently facing a surge in virus cases driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Although many infected people are not becoming as ill as they did in previous outbreaks, the surge in infections is putting severe strain on the health system, with more than 4,400 people in hospital. It is also causing disruptions to workplaces and supply chains.
“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” Mr Morrison said.
“This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today.”
Everyone at the Australian Open — including players, their support teams and spectators — is required to be vaccinated. Djokovic, a vocal opponent of vaccine mandates, has not been inoculated and had sought a medical exemption on the grounds that he had Covid-19 in December.
That exemption was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel. But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and cancelled his visa when he landed in Melbourne on January 5.
Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge on Monday overturned that decision. The ruling had allowed Djokovic to move freely around Australia and he had been practicing at Melbourne Park daily to prepare to play in the tournament.
He had a practice session originally scheduled for midafternoon on Friday at Rod Laver Arena, the tournament’s main stadium, but pushed that to the morning and was finished several hours before Mr Hawke’s decision was announced in the early evening.