This time it’s “game, set and match”. In a suffocating tie-break before the Australian federal court, the usual outstanding defender Novak Djokovic had to give in, after nearly two weeks of a merciless mano a mano, but not without twists and turns.
Australian justice upheld the cancellation of the Serbian player’s visa on Sunday January 16. The three judges unanimously rejected – and at the expense of the player – the appeal of Djokovic, who had seen his visa withdrawn a second time, by decision of the Australian Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke. The Djokovic camp will not appeal the decision, the court announced.
The world number 1 reached Melbourne airport to be expelled from the country in the evening (10:30 p.m. local time, 12:30 p.m. Paris time) and miss the Australian Open, of which he is the defending champion. He also faces a three-year ban from Australian territory, which is automatic after deportation unless there are compelling reasons. At 34, the move would likely end his dreams of a tenth title at Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena.
The judges considered admissible the decision of the Minister of Immigration on Friday, who had used his discretionary power to withdraw his visa to Novak Djokovic, explaining that this one was “likely to pose a health risk to the Australian community“. While the Oceanian island imposes drastic measures on its population to stem the Covid-19 pandemic, the Serb hoped to be able to stay on the territory thanks to a vaccination exemption, due to contamination with the coronavirus last December 16.
Even if Alex Hawke had readily acknowledged that Novak Djokovic represented only a minimal risk of contamination with the coronavirus, the Australian leader fears that the presence of the Serb “promotes anti-vaccination sentiment” and “triggers an upsurge in civil unrestThese reasons were sufficient for the court, which insisted on its decision as an application of the law, and not an appeal to the position of the Australian minister. The judges ruled on the “irrationality” of the government’s decision, that it was therefore not an abuse of power or contrary to federal law, and did not consider the merits of rejecting the visa suspension.
Even though Alex Hawke himself admitted on Saturday that Djokovic had broken no laws, his “imprudence“when completing his application for a visa and vaccine exemption, and his sulphurous image around the question of the vaccine ended up definitively sealing the player’s file. In discussions lasting several hours, government lawyer Stephen Lloyd felt that the Serbian player had shown his “contempt“sanitary rules in recent months to justify “sanitary and public order” reasons advanced to withdraw his visa. Novak Djokovic has notably been pinned in recent days for having taken part in several public events, including a photo session without a mask and an interview with the newspaper L’Equipe, once having been declared positive for Covid-19 on December 16.
Stephen Lloyd also considered that the very fact that the man with 20 Grand Slam titles was still not vaccinated two years after the start of the coronavirus pandemic was sufficient proof of his distrust of vaccination. Novak Djokovic’s lawyers had for their part described as “illogical“, “irrational” and “unreasonable“the deportation requested against their client, arguing that the Australian authorities could not know”what are Mr. Djokovic’s views currently“, pleaded lawyer Nick Wood. This did not convince the court, which will deliver the detailed written reasons for its decision in the coming days.
The decision of the three judges (James Allsop, Anthony Besanko and David O’Callaghan) – the plenary assembly had been chosen rather than the decision of a single judge, to the satisfaction of the Serbian clan – does not allow “Nole” to appeal quickly enough to appear in the men’s table of the Open d ‘Australia. The master of the world circuit was to face his compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round on Monday, in the last scheduled match of the day, in night session.
Since his departure for Australia on January 4, the man with 20 Major titles has spent his days between Melbourne airport, a detention center for illegal migrants and some training on the central court of the southern city since Monday. They will only remain a memory, he who will land in Dubai at the end of the day.
His absence and the late decision of the federal court on Sunday have the other consequence of leaving the men’s table of the tournament with a void. The order of Monday’s matches having been published before the judgment, it can no longer be changed, nor can the confrontations scheduled during the draw. Djokovic will therefore be replaced by a player beaten in qualifying, the Italian Salvatore Caruso, and leaves the number one seed status empty, an unlikely scenario.
Djokovic will now have to resume the race towards a possible 21st Major record by really starting his season. The game does not look easy, however, as the next major events on the calendar will take place next March in the United States with the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells (March 10 to 20) and Miami (March 23 to April 3). A complete vaccination passport is required to be able to enter American soil, unless there is a compelling reason (not including contamination). New major obstacles in the path of the Serb.