World number one Novak Djokovic was released from Australian immigration detention on Monday after winning a court challenge to revive his bid to win a record 21st Grand Slam title at the upcoming Australian Open.
Judge Anthony Kelly ruled the federal government’s decision last week to revoke the tennis star’s visa to enter the country was “unreasonable” and ordered Djokovic be released.
Djokovic’s plight has been closely followed around the world, creating political tensions between Belgrade and Canberra and sparking heated debate over national vaccination mandates.
News of his release was greeted with noisy celebrations of drum beating and dancing by a group of around 50 supporters, many draped in the Serbian flag, outside the Melbourne court.
Kelly also ordered the federal government pay legal costs for Djokovic, who spent several days in an immigration detention hotel, noting that his lawyers argued his “personal and professional reputation and his economic interests may be directly affected.”
Lawyers for the federal government, however, indicated the fight may not be over, telling the court Immigration Minister Alex Hawke was reserving the right to exercise his personal power to again revoke Djokovic’s visa.
After confirming that such a step, if taken, would bar 34-year-old Djokovic from the country for three years, Kelly warned the government lawyers that “the stakes have now risen, rather than receded.”
Hawke’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Djokovic, who was present in his lawyers’ chambers for the hearing, did not immediately emerge in public or make a statement after the ruling.
The Australian Open starts on January 17. Kelly said he had quashed the government decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa because the player was not given enough time to speak to tennis organizers and lawyers to respond fully after he was notified of the intent to cancel his visa.
Kelly noted that officials at Melbourne’s airport made the player switch off his phone from midnight to around 7.42am local time, when the decision to cancel his visa was made.
Officials also reneged on an agreement to give Djokovic until 8.30am to speak to tournament organizer Tennis Australia and lawyers, the judge said.
Djokovic was instead woken up by officials at around 6am after a brief rest and said he felt pressured to respond. The player, a long-term vocal opponent of mandatory vaccination, told border officials he was unvaccinated and had had Covid-19 twice, according to a transcript of the interview.