Djokovic resumes legal fight to play Open

Novak Djokovic’s last ditch attempt to defend his Australian Open title will be heard in the Federal Court on Sunday morning, just 24 hours before the start of the tournament.

The legal battle over the visa cancellation and deportation of the world No.1 continued on Saturday morning with a procedural hearing in front of Justice David O’Callaghan.

The judge is now considering whether Sunday’s proceedings will be heard by a full bench of three judges, which Djokovic’s legal team want, or by a single judge which can be appealed.


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If the case is heard by the full court there is no avenue to appeal any decision made.

Justice O’Callaghan confirmed the details agreed upon in the late night court hearing on Friday, with lawyers representing Djokovic and the government submitting written arguments later Saturday.

Spared detention on Friday night, Djokovic was not seen on the online court feed during the short hearing.

The Serbian superstar was due to continue talks with his lawyers through the day before being taken into detention for the night, possibly back at the same hotel where he spent four nights previously.

Djokovic’s legal team revealed on Friday their grounds for appeal would centre on the irrationality of the decision, which lawyer Nick Wood SC said was based on the threat of “exciting anti-vax sentiment”.

Djokovic cited a December COVID-19 infection to gain a medical exemption from vaccination but was detained by Australian Border Force officials on arrival last week and sent to a detention hotel with his visa cancelled.

He then won a reprieve in the Federal Circuit Court on Monday and has trained daily at Melbourne Park since, including an appearance Friday morning on Rod Laver Arena.

But it proved only a temporary move with Hawke using his discretionary power to again send Djokovic packing.

Even if he wins his battle the nine-time champion’s preparations will surely have been completely scuppered.

Australian Open organisers announced on Friday the top half of the men’s draw would be playing on Monday’s opening day, which will leave Djokovic little chance of proper preparation to face a first-round match with Serbian compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic.

Back home in Serbia, there was fresh indignation at the news of the national hero’s latest detention as Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused the Australian government of “harassing” and “maltreating” Djokovic, suggesting it was indulging in political points scoring ahead of the elections.

Djokovic’s former coach and mentor, Niki Pilic, described the situation as “shameful” and said Djokovic was being treated like a “criminal.”

Even those who weren’t necessarily against Djokovic seemed to think it might be time for him to step aside for the sake of the sport, as much as himself.

Seven-time grand slam champion Justine Henin said: “I think it’s the best thing he doesn’t play at the moment.

“When something is so complicated, I don’t say that Djokovic doesn’t have to fight, because he thought it was the right thing to do, but I think now it’s been proved that so many Australian people don’t want him to play.

“So maybe it’s better for everyone – for tennis, for the tournament, and maybe for him – that he doesn’t play.”

Leading Australian coach Darren Cahill posted on social media: “Fault lies everywhere here. It’s been a mess. Novak, TA, Vic Gov, Federal Gov.”

© AAP 2022