Novak Djokovic is on his way to Dubai after the men's tennis world No 1 lost his final appeal against the Australian government's decision to cancel his visa earlier in the day.
Djokovic, 34, had sought to overturn Australia's Immigration Minister Alex Hawke's move to revoke his visa, 10 days after he was first detained upon arrival in Melbourne after border forces deemed proof of his medical exemption against Covid-19 vaccination insufficient.
However, having won his first appeal against the initial decision to cancel his visa at the border, Djokovic was unsuccessful in overturning the government's intervention, which was conducted by Hawke under the country's Migrations Act.
Ruling on a case that has gripped Australia and the sports world, a three-judge bench of the Federal Court unanimously upheld the government's decision to cancel Djokovic's visa on public interest grounds because he is not vaccinated against Covid-19.
Following the ruling, Djokovic was deported the same day, and the 20-time Grand Slam champion boarded the 10.30pm (3.30pm UAE time) Emirates flight bound for Dubai. He will arrive in the UAE just after 5.30am.
He could also be handed a three-year suspension from entering Australia, which could be overruled in compelling circumstances that affect Australia's interest.
The Serbian's departure from Australia brings to an end an ugly saga that has caused social unrest and a rise in diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
The final verdict stoked those political fires further, with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accusing the Australian government of "lying" as he predictably threw his support behind Djokovic.
“I told him I could not wait for him to come to Serbia, to return to his country, to be where he is always welcome. To mistreat the best tennis player for 11 days, an on the 11th day hand him the decision made on the first day,” Vucic is quoted as saying.
“You saw in the pointless court proceeding how much the prosecution lied [meaning Australian government lawyers]. They are simply lying. They say there are fewer than 50 per cent vaccinated people in Serbia and officially the number is 58 per cent. Don’t forget that’s higher than in many European Union countries. That was a pointless argument, but that’s possible in Orwellian performances.”
Vucic added: “Thank you to the Australian people as I am sure they love Serbs. They [the Australian government] think they have humiliated Djokovic, but they have humiliated themselves and he can return to his country and look everyone in the eyes with his head held high.”
Djokovic had also received a large amount of support on the streets of Melbourne as people protested throughout much of his time in the immigration detention centre.
However, opposition to the world No 1's presence in Australia was also fierce, with numerous polls suggesting the overwhelming majority of Australian citizens and residents wanted to see him deported.
The ATP issued their own statement in response to the ruling, stating: "Today's decision to uphold Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa cancellation marks the end of a deeply regrettable series of events. Ultimately, decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected. More time is required to take stock of the facts and to take the learnings from this situation.
"Irrespective of how this point has been reached, Novak is one of our sport’s greatest champions and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game. We know how turbulent the recent days have been for Novak and how much he wanted to defend his title in Melbourne. We wish him well and look forward to seeing him back on court soon.
"ATP continues to strongly recommend vaccination to all players."
Djokovic had arrived in Australia seeking to create more history at Melbourne Park. The defending and record nine-time Australian Open champion was aiming to become the most successful male player in Grand Slam history with a 21st title.
He was seeded first and placed in the draw and was scheduled to face compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round on Monday, but has since been replaced by lucky loser Salvatore Caruso.
Before leaving Australia, Djokovic expressed his disappointment, saying in a statement: “I am extremely disappointed with the Court 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 will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country."
Djokovic said he was “uncomfortable” that the focus had been on him since his visa was first cancelled on arrival at Mebourne's airport on January 6.
“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he said.