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A defiant Novak Djokovic is ready to contest any decision to cancel his visa as he refuses to give up on the prospect of defending his Australian Open title. The potential cancellation of the world No 1’s visa was delayed by ministers following the submission of extra information from the Serbian’s legal team.
However, Djokovic’s legal team are already said to be preparing for the prospect of a further legal appeal to ensure they have exhausted all options to stay in Melbourne. Under federal government laws, individuals who have their visa cancelled have a limited time to request a review of the decision before the independent Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). If the Immigration Minister is personally responsible for the decision, however, a verdict is normally final.
With the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke still deliberating on Thursday, the chances of him being free to play his first round match against compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic appeared slim. In a lengthy social media post on Wednesday, Djokovic had acknowledged for the first time that he broke isolation rules in Serbia and made an incorrect declaration on his visa application. But, according to The Melbourne Age newspaper, his legal team remains busy preparing as strong a case as possible to contest any further move to deport him.
The delay in any verdict came on another day of intrigue at Melbourne Park, where a 45-minute delay to the draw ceremony left many jumping to the conclusion that a decision on Djokovic’s visa was imminent. Tennis Australia – who organise the Australian Open – are desperately hoping the Djokovic issue can be resolved before the tournament starts on Monday. Although the government’s immigration website suggests that a personal ruling from Hawke cannot be challenged via appeal, Djokovic’s lawyers clearly believe otherwise.
A spokesperson for Mr Hawke said on Wednesday the Serbian tennis star’s lawyers had “recently provided lengthy further submissions and supporting documentation said to be relevant to the possible cancellation of Mr Djokovic’s visa”. “Naturally, this will affect the timeframe for a decision,” they said. It was reported that Djokovic’s lawyers are confident a hearing could be fast-tracked in order to complete proceedings by Sunday via shortened written submissions and verbal evidence.
If victorious, the nine-time Australian Open champion would have an opportunity to defend his title in the following days. If he were to beat the Australian government for a second time, Djokovic would face arguably the easiest curtain-raiser in Melbourne possible, having been drawn against fellow Serbian Kecmanovic who has previously expressed his adoration for the 20-time Grand Slam champion. The draw was originally supposed to take place at 3pm, but it was already running a few minutes late when Tennis Australia suddenly announced a postponement until 4.15pm.
Only then did Djokovic discover that his putative first-round opponent would be his fellow Serb. Later, the Australian Open’s tournament referee, Wayne McKewen, told reporters that the draw delay had been caused by a “[Covid] testing issue” involving “someone else”. Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley also declined to comment after the draw ceremony, declining a request from a reporter to take questions after it had been completed.
However, as the tennis world held its breath, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison then barely addressed Djokovic’s prospects during his national address on Covid infection rates. Any decision, he said, would come from Hawke. Djokovic himself had practised with Argentina’s Federico Coria on Rod Laver Arena at 1pm. He is preparing for his title defence as if nothing unusual were afoot. But if Hawke should rule against him, the draw will have to be reorganised, adding further disruption to an event that has already been overshadowed by the immigration row.
Were Djokovic not to participate after all, the No 5 seed Andrey Rublev would replace him in the first line of the draw, unless the decision came so late that the order of play had already been released. In that case, a “lucky loser” who had lost in the final round of qualifying would be called in to face a relieved Kecmanovic. Despite his best efforts to concentrate on his tennis by practising at Melbourne Park each day since his release from a detention hotel on Monday, there was a belief that Djokovic’s chances of competing on Rod Laver Arena are small.
An interview and photoshoot he carried out after contracting coronavirus, and unanswered questions about his positive test, have not gone down well in a country where the majority of the public are already furious about his presence due to being unvaccinated. Djokovic's admission that he spoke to a journalist from the French publication L'Equipe while he should have been in quarantine was being examined by the government. Claims from Der Spiegel, the German newspaper, that his positive test may have occurred 10 days later than stated in documents have also been investigated.
On Thursday, the Victorian state government announced that Australian Open crowds will have to be restricted to 50 percent capacity to slow the spread of Covid. This will further impact TA’s already parlous financial position, which was badly affected by last year’s crowd reductions. On the upside, however, ground passes will continue to be available as usual, and neither will cancellations be enforced if a particular session has already sold more than 50 percent of its tickets.