Djokovic readies vaccine exemption case for Australian visa showdown

ROME, ITALY - MAY 15: Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates during the Semi Final match between Novak Djokovic and Lorenzo Sonego on Day Eight of the Internazionali BNL D'Italia 2021 at Foro Italico on May 15, 2021 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic readied his legal guns Sunday for a battle to stay in Melbourne and defend his Australian Open title, arguing he has the all-clear because of a positive coronavirus test in December.

Djokovic’s fight to overturn the shock cancellation of his visa and his ensuing detention in a notorious Melbourne immigration facility will culminate in a highly publicised online hearing in federal court on Monday.

Nobody is allowed in or out except staff.

“Free, free, the refugees,” the crowd chanted as dozens of police stood by.

With eight days to go before the January 17 start of the Australian Open, any delay could dash the 34-year-old’s hopes of winning his 10th crown in Melbourne, and a record 21st Grand Slam title.

Djokovic’s lawyers submitted a 35-page document Saturday arguing his visa was wrongly canceled and should be reinstated, allowing him to compete.

Tennis Australia cleared him for an exemption to play in the tournament after his application was approved by two independent medical panels, his lawyers said.

Australia’s government, however, insists a recent coronavirus infection only counts as an exemption for residents, not for foreign nationals trying to enter the country.

Despite Djokovic’s claim of a positive test on December 16, pictures shared by the Belgrade tennis federation showed him at a young players’ event in the city on December 17.

Djokovic had also attended another gathering on December 16, when the Serbian national postal service launched a series of stamps in his honor.
The tennis ace’s lawyers argue that he faced an “unfair procedure”, claiming Australian border agents held him for eight hours at Melbourne airport, mostly “incommunicado”.

Since being moved into the Park Hotel detention center, his pleas to be moved to another facility where he can train for the Australian Open have fallen on deaf ears, the lawyers said.