Novak Djokovic faces deportation hearing with place at Australian Open on the line

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Djokovic's visa was cancelled again late on Friday - GETTY IMAGES
Djokovic's visa was cancelled again late on Friday - GETTY IMAGES

Novak Djokovic faces a make-or-break court hearing on Sunday (Saturday evening GMT) to decide if he will be deported from Australia after a 10-day attempt to remain and defend his tennis title.

The unvaccinated tennis world number one was taken on Saturday morning to the same hotel where he was held for several days last week after his Covid-19 medical exemption was first declared invalid and he was barred from entering the country.

Despite winning an appeal on Monday, Djokovic's visa was cancelled again late on Friday, with the government arguing in court papers that his presence risked whipping up anti-vaccination sentiment while the country struggles with its worst coronavirus outbreak so far.

Three judges at the Federal Court of Australia will hear Djokovic’s second appeal at 9.30am Sunday local time (10.30pm GMT). Their decision will be final, the court said.

At stake is his chance to win a record 21st major title at the Australian Open, where he has been drawn to play against a fellow Serb in the first round. The tournament, which Djokovic has won nine times, starts on Monday.

The 34-year-old was taken to Melbourne's Park Hotel at about 3.30pm local time on Saturday accompanied by Border Force guards.

Photographers outside the lawyers' office where Novak Djokovic may have been watching the hearing on Saturday - AP
Photographers outside the lawyers' office where Novak Djokovic may have been watching the hearing on Saturday - AP

A man cycling past shouted: "Go home, Novak!", as about a dozen refugee activists chanted "stop the torture ... let them out". The hotel is also holding 33 asylum seekers and travellers in Covid-19 quarantine.

The federal court’s decision on Sunday is expected to be the climax of a saga that has dominated global headlines and the build-up to the tournament for the past week and a half.

There has been huge controversy over Djokovic's visa, his treatment by immigration officials, and the government's handling of the case.

Djokovic's medical exemption from vaccine requirements to play the Open prompted widespread anger in Australia. The country has suffered some of the world's toughest lockdowns. More than 90 per cent of adults are vaccinated, but hospitalisation rates continue to hit record highs.

The Australian government told the court that Novak Djokovic's presence in Melbourne could encourage 'anti-vaxx' sentiment - EPA
The Australian government told the court that Novak Djokovic's presence in Melbourne could encourage 'anti-vaxx' sentiment - EPA

Detained on arrival, Djokovic spent four nights in hotel detention before a judge freed him on Monday after finding a decision to cancel his visa on arrival had been unreasonable.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke then cancelled Mr Djokovic's visa again on Friday night.

"Although I ... accept that Mr Djokovic poses a negligible individual risk of transmitting Covid-19 to other persons, I nonetheless consider that his presence may be a risk to the health of the Australian community," Mr Hawke said in a letter to Mr Djokovic and his legal team.

Djokovic's lawyers have appealed, saying they would argue deportation would only further fan anti-vaccination sentiment and would be as much a threat to disorder and public health as letting him stay.

The controversy has become a political touchstone for Prime Minister Scott Morrison as he prepares for an election due to be held by May.

His government has won support at home for its tough stance on border security during the pandemic, but it has faced criticism for its handling of Djokovic's visa application, both at home and in Djokovic’s home country of Serbia.

Djokovic's treatment branded 'a disgrace'

Serbia's sports minister Vanja Udovicic, said on Saturday that his government “fully backs” the tennis star, calling his treatment “a disgrace” and accusing Australia of “double standards”.

“Hoping for the best outcome and that Novak will find the strength to play and win the tournament," he added.

Serbia’s president on Friday also came out in support of Djokovic.

“If you wanted to forbid Novak Djokovic to win the trophy for the 10th time, why didn't you return him immediately, why didn't you tell him that it was impossible to get a visa?" Aleksandar Vučić said in a video on Instagram.

“Why do you harass him, why do you mistreat him, as well as his family and [a] nation that is free and proud?”

"(You'll) never come even close not only to (him), but to any ordinary person in our and your proud nations," Mr Vucic added.

But some tennis players have voiced frustration with the whole drama.

"Honestly I'm a little bit tired of the situation because I just believe that it's important to talk about our sport, about tennis," said Rafa Nadal, who is tied on 20 major titles with Mr Djokovic.

"The Australian Open is much more important than any player," said the Spaniard, whom Mr Djokovic considers his greatest rival.

"If he's playing finally, OK. If he's not playing, the Australian Open will be great ... with or without him."

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