Tennis champ Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government on Friday revoked his visa for a second time — just three days before the start of the Australian Open.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said he used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa, saying the world tennis number one may pose a health risk because he is unvaccinated.
Unlike last week — when Djokovic was forced to spend four nights in an immigration detention hotel — the star was not detained Friday.
However, he has to report to immigration officials at 8 a.m. Saturday ahead of a deportation court hearing later that day.
Soon after the announcement, lawyers for the star appealed to a judge to block any deportation until after the Australian Open, where Djokovic has won a record nine of his 20 Grand Slam titles.
They insisted the top-ranked player poses no risk — and suggested the government’s move was to prevent enticing anti-vaccination protesters who had come out in force to support him.
In his announcement, Hawke justified the move on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”
“The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hawke said in a statement, referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Made under Section 133C, it means Djokovic would not be able to secure a visa to Australia for three years, except in compelling circumstances.
The prime minister — who has enforced strict travel restrictions throughout the pandemic — defended the move, which came on the same day Australia reported 130,000 new COVID cases.
“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods,” Morrison said in a statement.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected … This is what the Minister is doing in taking this action today.”
The announcement came after the No. 1-ranked tennis player had finished a practice session for the Australian Open, which starts on Monday.
Everyone at the tournament — including players, their support teams and spectators — is required to be vaccinated for COVID.
Djokovic is not inoculated and had sought a medical exemption on the grounds that he had COVID-19 in December.
That exemption was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, apparently allowing him to obtain a visa to travel. But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa when he landed in Melbourne on Jan. 5.
Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge on Monday overturned that decision.
That ruling allowed Djokovic to move freely around Australia and he has been practicing at Melbourne Park daily to prepare to play in a tournament he has won each of the past three years.
With his legal situation still in limbo, Djokovic was placed in the tournament bracket in Thursday’s draw, slated to face Miomir Kecmanovic in an all-Serbian matchup in the first round.
If Djokovic withdraws, he would be replaced in the field by what’s known as a “lucky loser” — a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but gets into the main draw because of another player’s exit before competition has started.
Reps for the tournament did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Friday’s development.
Greek world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas, speaking before Hawke’s decision, said Djokovic was “playing by his own rules” and making vaccinated players “look like fools.”
British tennis star Andy Murray told reporters at the Sydney Classic tournament that the situation was “Not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak.”
Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said Djokovic’s lawyers faced an “extremely difficult” task to get court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play next week.
“For Djokovic to get the outcomes he needs to play would be extremely difficult to obtain over the weekend,” Bone said.
Hawke’s delay in reaching a decision bordered on punitive, Bone said.
“If you left it any later than he has done now, I think from a strategic standpoint he’s (Hawke’s) really hamstringing Djokovic’s legal team, in terms of what sort of options or remedies he could obtain,” Bone said hours before the decision was announced.
With Post wires