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Novak Djokovic has won his appeal against being denied a visa to enter Australia.
Djokovic has been detained at an immigration facility in Melbourne since Thursday morning after his visa was cancelled following scrutiny of the medical exemption for the Covid vaccine he had secured to travel to the Australian Open, the first tennis major of the year.
The Serbian’s legal team filed papers to appeal against border control’s original decision confirming that Djokovic tested positive for Covid last month and recovered. He used that as grounds in applying for a medical exemption to Australia’s strict vaccination rules.
And following a lengthy hearing on Monday, Judge Anthony Kelly quashed the visa cancellation and ordered the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention within half an hour.
The decision means Djokovic, a nine-time champion in Melbourne, now has the chance to defend his 2021 title although government counsel Christopher Tran notified the court that the minister for immigration, Alex Hawke will now consider whether to exercise a “personal power of cancellation” of Djokovic’s visa that could ultimately see him banned from Australia for three years.
Earlier in the day Djokovic was removed from detention to be with his lawyers during the hearing, and Judge Kelly expressed agitation over the rejection of Djokovic’s medical exemption.
Djokovic’s lawyers presented their arguments to the court, but government lawyer Mr Tran only spoke for half an hour before a lengthy adjournment.
During that break the two parties agreed on the minutes of Judge Kelly’s order which confirmed Djokovic had not been given adequate time to respond to the notification to cancel his visa.
The hearing was delayed by technical issues with the court’s video link, but Djokovic’s lawyers argued their case to Judge Kelly, who asked the court “What more could this man have done?” and said he was “agitated” about the issue of Djokovic’s medical exemption.
“Here, a professor and an eminently qualified physician have produced and provided to the applicant a medical exemption,” Judge Kelly said. “Further to that, that medical exemption and the basis on which it was given was separately given by a further independent expert specialist panel established by the Victorian state government and that document was in the hands of the delegate.”
Djokovic’s lawyer, Nicholas Wood, argued the notice of intention to cancel his visa was defective because it was made on “a confusing blend of two grounds”.
He also argued that Djokovic was treated at the airport as if access to lawyers “couldn’t possibly” be of assistance in the matter and was not given a reasonable chance to respond to the notice.
The case sparked a strong and divided response, both from within tennis and further afield.
Former British number one Andy Murray had earlier expressed concern for the Serbian and says his predicament is “really not good for tennis at all”.
“I think everyone is shocked by it, to be honest,” five-time Australian Open finalist Murray told reporters in Australia ahead of Monday’s hearing.
“I’m going to say two things on it just now. The first thing is that I hope that Novak is OK. I know him well, and I’ve always had a good relationship with him and I hope that he’s OK.
“The second thing, it’s really not good for tennis at all, and I don’t think it’s good for anyone involved. I think it’s really bad.”
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who has been a fierce critic of Djokovic on many matters, weighed in on Twitter last week to call for his country to “do better” in its treatment of the 20-time major champion.
The world number 93 wrote: “Look I definitely believe in taking action, I got vaccinated because of others and for my mums health, but how we are handling Novak’s situation is bad, really bad.
“Like these memes, headlines, this is one of our great champions but at the end of the day, he is human. Do better.”
Djokovic’s father claimed the world number one has been made a scapegoat and “crucified” in the row.