Novak Djokovic is facing deportation from Australia after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke personally intervened to cancel the Serbian star’s visa.
Announcing the decision in a statement on Friday, Hawke said he took the step “on health and good order grounds, [and] on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”
Hawke stepped in after a Melbourne federal circuit court reversed the initial decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa, which was taken at the Australian border when the 34-year-old arrived in the country last week.
Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, was granted a medical exemption by Tennis Australia and the Victoria state authorities to compete at this month’s Australian Open, based on his recovery from a Covid infection in December.
But federal officials have deemed that insufficient for Djokovic to be allowed in the country. They had previously detained him at a notorious Melbourne immigration facility before the judge’s decision to release him on Monday.
The Serb is a nine-time Australian Open champion and was included in Thursday’s draw for this year’s event despite the ongoing uncertainty over his fate.
Djokovic and his legal team will now face another battle to overturn the latest decision by Hawke, after the likes of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had signaled a hard line on the issue.
“In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic,”added the statement from Hawke.
“The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The saga has ballooned into a scandal far beyond tennis, in a country which has been subjected to some of the most uncompromising lockdown conditions anywhere on the planet during the pandemic.
The Australian authorities have been accused of handling the case poorly, while Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that Australian PM Morrison was guilty of complicity in a ‘political witch hunt’ against Djokovic.
The family of the 20-time Grand Slam champion have also been vocal in their condemnation of Australian officials, holding rallies and press conferences in Djokovic’s support back in Serbia.
Djokovic, meanwhile, has faced questions over why he did not immediately self-isolate following his positive Covid test in Belgrade in December, and also had to clarify why there was incorrect travel information on his Australian entry declaration.
Th Australian Open formally gets underway on Monday, and Djokovic had been drawn to meet countryman Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round.
Djokovic has won the title in Melbourne for the last three years in a row and would be bidding for an outright record of 21 Grand Slams in total, moving him ahead of great rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
The Serb’s team had signaled they were braced for the decision by Hawke on Friday, and will now need to seek an immediate injunction for Djokovic to remain in Australia while they fight his case.