'I want to stay' says Djokovic, but bid to play in Australian Open still hangs in balance

10 January 2022, 14:04 | Updated: 10 January 2022, 17:10

By Daisy Stephens

Novak Djokovic has insisted he will "try to compete" in the Australian open, after he won a visa legal battle that freed him from detention.

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The Australian government previously cancelled the tennis star's visa and detained him when he arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday.

Djokovic has won his visa battle but still faces the prospect of being kicked out of Australia
Djokovic has won his visa battle but still faces the prospect of being kicked out of Australia. Picture: Alamy

Djokovic won his appeal on Monday and a court ordered his immediate release, so he is free to leave.

But whether he will play in the tournament still hangs in the balance as Australia's immigration minister could still revoke the 34-year-old’s visa.

Immigration minister Alex Hawke still has the power to rip up individual visas should he see fit.

Mr Hawke had declined to use those powers as of Monday night but insisted he is still actively considering the move.

The family of Novak Djokovic at today's press conference
The family of Novak Djokovic at today's press conference. Picture: Getty

Despite the looming threat of being booted out the country, a defiant Djokovic tweeted: "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.

Fans mob a car in Melbourne as the legal case over Djokovic's visa carried on
Fans mob a car in Melbourne as the legal case over Djokovic's visa carried on. Picture: Getty

"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."

He added: "I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of amazing fans. For now I cannot say more but THANK YOU for standing with me through all this and encouraging me to stay strong."

Read more: Djokovic's wife calls for 'love and forgiveness' as tennis star held in anti-vax row

Read more: Djokovic not told 'Covid exemption' would be accepted, Australian government claims

Speaking in a press conference in Serbia, Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, described the court victory as "the biggest win of his career - bigger than any of the grand slams he has won".

His brother Djordje added: "Novak is free - a few moments ago he trained on a tennis court.

"He went to Australia to play tennis, to try to win another Australian Open and to win a record that he has been chasing for so many years.

"Novak is an athlete, he is the best tennis player of all time. Everything he supports in his life is to live up to his principles and ideals.

"He has been branded in different ways for many years but he has always supported freedom of choice, and that's all, nothing else."

An affidavit reportedly detailed his perspective of encountering border agents, which apparently left Djokovic "upset and confused" during continuous questioning.

He had to sleep on a sofa in between questioning after his long-haul flight on Wednesday.

A black car with tinted windows was seen leaving his lawyer's office in Melbourne as supporters gathered around chanting "free Nole" - his nickname - but it was not confirmed if the player was inside.

Police clashed with supporters as the car left, reportedly resorting to using pepper spray as fans banged on the window and several even climbed on top of the vehicle.

Djokovic later posted a tweet showing him on a tennis court.

Australian journalist Paul Karp told LBC earlier the stakes had "risen rather than receded" with Djokovic's victory, because there remained a "nuclear option" for the immigration minister himself to deport the player - meaning his participation in the next three Australian Opens hangs in the balance.

"Novak Djokovic's lawyers were attacking the fairness of the way that he was questioned in the early hours of the morning and particularly the fact that the Australian government reneged on a deal to allow him to talk to Tennis Australia officials," Mr Karp told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast.

"That was the focus of most of the argument but really Djokovic has won the battle but might still lose the war here, because the Australian government has agreed to quash the decision cancelling his visa... but the government lawyers told the court that they are considering using a separate power in the migration act for the immigration minister to personally cancel his visa."

Mr Karp described it as a "nuclear option", explaining that the repercussions of taking it could be huge.

"If they use this power he will be deported from Australia and cannot come back for three years, so as the judge observed at the end of the hearing today, the stakes have actually risen than receded because we're now talking about whether he can play in the 2022, 2023 and 2024 Australian opens," he said.

"It could even affect whether Australia is able to host the Australian open tournament in the next three years."

The Australian government cancelled the 34-year-old's visa, saying he was not exempt from the stringent vaccine rules despite claims he was recently infected with the virus.

But Judge Anthony Kelly has quashed the cancellation, and ordered the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention within half an hour.

But it does not mean the vaccine row is over.

Government counsel Christopher Tran notified the court that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs - not the minister who made the original visa cancellation - will now consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation of Djokovic's visa.

Read more: Djokovic to learn of visa fate as Australia loses bid to delay tennis star's appeal

Read more: Anti-vaxx tennis star Novak Djokovic breaks silence amid Covid visa row

The Serb's lawyers argued Australian border officials did not give Djokovic enough notice of the government's intention to revoke his visa, and argued he had a valid exemption from vaccination due to being recently infected with coronavirus.

Djokovic travelled to Australia to play in the Australian Open last week, which begins on January 17.

The top-ranked star had hoped to defend his title and win a men's record 21st Grand Slam singles title.

But, despite allegedly being told by officials he would be given an exemption to the stringent vaccine rules in order to compete, he was denied entry when he arrived at Melbourne's airport on Wednesday.

Watch: Djokovic's wife calls for 'love and forgiveness' as tennis star held in anti-vax row

Read more: Novak Djokovic to be held in Australia detention hotel for days in vaccine row

The case has polarised opinion around the world and elicited heartfelt support for the tennis star in his native Serbia.

His parents recently joined a protest rally in the capital Belgrade.

Djokovic's father Srdjan Djokovic previously said "this is happening because we are only a small part of the world, but we are proud people".

He added: "They can't break us. Novak is the personification of freedom, everything human that one man contains in himself. Shame on them!"

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Mrs Djokovic said that the conditions in the hotel in Melbourne where Djokovic had been staying are "not humane".

"He doesn't even have breakfast," she said.

"He has a wall to stare at and he can't even see a park in front or go out of the room."

This story is being updated.

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