Djokovic has won his court battle against the decision to cancel his visa, but the tennis star can expect more uncomfortable questions during the Australia Open, ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott reports
World number one men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic has swapped his legal court battle for a tennis court after winning an appeal against a decision to cancel his visa ahead of the Australian Open.
In a social media message, the tennis star said he was "pleased" and "grateful" after being freed from detention in a Melbourne hotel.
The saga is not yet over as the tennis player could still be deported from Australia - and additionally, banned from the country for three years - if the immigration department takes action under a different section of the law.
But ahead of the final decision, Djokovic thanked everyone for their support, reiterating his determination to stay in the country and play at the Australian Open.
He wrote on Twitter alongside a picture of him on the court: “I’m pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen. I remain focused on that.
“I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans.
“For now, I cannot say more but THANK YOU all for standing with me through all this and encouraging me to stay strong.”
At a press conference, Djokovic’s mother Dijana described his successful appeal as “the biggest win of his career – bigger than any of the grand slams he has won”.
She said: "We have come to, in some way, celebrate the victory of our son, our Novak, a young man who has learned in his family not to tolerate lies, not to tolerate fraud.
"He's always fought for justice. He is not guilty of anything, he did nothing that is against their laws, and yet he suffered such torture, which we've already seen ourselves.
"We are yet to hear all that he has experienced. And of course, he stood against the system and against the government as he deemed he had a full right to be there with the visa he had been granted. He went there to win the tournament."
His brother, Djordje, added: “Novak is free – a few moments ago he trained on a tennis court."
Djokovic’s father Srdjan said the past few days had been "incredibly difficult for him and his family".
He said: “He was met at the airport and they took away all the rights he had as a human being.
“They attempted to persuade him to sign that he was revoking his visa so that he could be sent back to Serbia – he refused to sign that document because there was no reason for it.
“They gave him no right to communicate with his lawyers, his team, his friends. They even took away his phone.
“I think this is a huge win for Novak and for his family and the whole free world. We’re all human beings and we have the right to say what we think and not to suffer consequences for expressing an opinion.”
Djokovic's fans crowding around a car, believing it carried the tennis player
Novak Djokovic's former tennis coach on Monday said he expects the No 1 player to come back "even stronger".
Djokovic's fans were seen crowding around a car leaving the tennis star's lawyer's office in Melbourne on Monday, believing it carried the tennis player.
Earlier on Monday, Judge Anthony Kelly in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia quashed the cancellation of Djokovic's visa, ruling that the tennis star had not been given enough time to speak to his lawyers before the decision was made.
He ordered the Australian government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention within half an hour.
Novak Djokovic's supporters celebrate outside court as the Australian government is ordered to free the tennis star from detention
Government counsel Christopher Tran notified the court that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Alex Hawke – not the minister who made the original visa cancellation – will now consider whether to exercise a personal power to re-cancel Djokovic’s visa.
If the government exercises this power, Djokovic could be deported and barred from the country for three years, which could have a "huge effect on him personally and on his income", John Findley, an independent immigration lawyer in Sydney, said.
It's also possible Djokovic could appeal against that decision and bring the immigration department back to court.
But Mr Findley predicted "there will be no further action by the immigration department. I believe it's over", although he admitted he could be wrong.
Independent immigration lawyer John Findley on whether the Australian government will take further action to deport Novak Djokovic
Earlier in the day, Djokovic’s lawyers presented their arguments to Judge Kelly in court, but government lawyer Mr Tran only spoke for half an hour before a lengthy adjournment.
Judge Kelly asked the court “What more could this man have done?” and said he was “agitated” about the issue of Djokovic’s medical exemption.
He said: “Here, a professor and an eminently qualified physician have produced and provided to the applicant a medical exemption.
“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 had announced on social media on Tuesday that he had medical exemption from the Covid vaccine.
He landed in Australia with a medical exemption from the Victoria state government that was expected to shield him from the strict vaccination regulations in place.
But he was detained on Thursday morning at an immigration facility in Melbourne after his visa was cancelled following scrutiny of the medical exemption he had secured.
He was taken to Park Hotel, a quarantine facility which has also been used as an immigration centre according to online reviews.
Immigration lawyer Mr Findley, who says he is neutral in the case, said he thought it was "unconscionable" for Djokovic to be held incommunicado for more than eight hours after landing in Australia.
He said Djokovic's arguments in court were "robust" and "there's no way (the government) can justify the unfairness that was visited onto Mr Djokovic".
He said the laws must be obeyed and the "government was held to account".
Immigration lawyer John Findley, who is neutral in Djokovic's case, says the government treated the tennis star unfairly and suggests there could've been some politics involved
Suggesting there could have been some politics at play, he admitted Djokovic's visa cancellation was "timely" and said: "Here in Australia, we have a commonwealth election coming up and the political parties are taking potshots at eachother".
He added it's "hard to say" if the case officer who refused Djokovic entry was swayed by public opinion but that "nobody can be immune from what's happening around them".
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "It's important for the Australian authorities to make their own dispositions.
"All I would say about about Novak Djokovic - against whom I've played tennis, by the way, he's, he's pretty good - is, you know, I believe in vaccination, and I think it's a wonderful thing to do.
"And I think that everybody should get behind a programme that is allowing this country to be the most open economy in Europe and simultaneously to protect people up and down the land. So, it has massive advantages."