MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian court ruled Novak Djokovic should be deported from the country, ending the tennis star's bid to compete for his 21st Grand Slam title.
The ruling ends a saga that has embroiled the world’s top-ranked male tennis player in a legal and diplomatic row, and fueled the debate on Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
Three Federal Court judges on Sunday, upheld a decision made Friday by Australia's Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to cancel the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds, meaning he will not be able to compete at the Australian Open tournament on Monday.
Djokovic, hoping to win his 21st grand slam tournament, had been set to play against his fellow Serb, Miomir Kecmanovic, the No. 76 player in the world. Italy’s Salvatore Caruso, ranked 150, will now take his place.
Chief Justice James Allsop said the Federal Court ruling was based on the lawfulness and legality of the minister’s decision in the context of the three grounds of appeal Djokovic’s team lodged.
“It is no part of the function of the court to decide upon the merits or wisdom of the decision,” Allsop said, adding the decision was unanimous among the three judges. Full reasoning behind the decision would be released in coming days, he said.
A deportation order usually also includes a three-year ban on returning to Australia.
In a statement, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling. But he said that he respected it and would cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to his departure from the country.
"I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love," he said.
Court filings made earlier this week confirmed Djokovic, 34, is unvaccinated, and he has said the matter was one of personal choice.
Australian border restrictions currently allow entry only to non-Australian travelers who are fully vaccinated, but the Serbian star has argued he received a medical exemption to enter the country because he had been diagnosed with Covid-19 in his homeland last month and had since recovered.
He admitted Wednesday, however, that his travel form to get into Australia included a false statement and that he had failed to immediately isolate after testing positive, adding to the scrutiny from Australian officials and the world’s media.
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Djokovic saw the visa first revoked after his claim of a medical exemption was rejected by border officials when he arrived in Melbourne.
He later won a legal appeal that allowed him to stay in the country and practice even as the threat of deportation hung over his head.
He stayed immigration detention among asylum seekers and undocumented migrants as he awaited the verdict on the appeal. The court decision did not make a ruling on whether his reason for the medical exemption was valid.
Hawke, the immigration minister, canceled Djokovic's visa for a second time on Friday. He said in a statement early Friday that he had used his discretionary powers to do so “on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”
Djokovic was a person of influence and status, and his “ongoing presence may lead to an increase in anti-vaccination sentiment generated in the Australian community,” he added.
Hawke welcomed the court's ruling Sunday. He said that his countrymen had made great sacrifices and the government was committed to protecting those sacrifices. His comments were echoed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The saga has left many Australians outraged as an outbreak of the more transmissible omicron variant fuels record-high levels of infections. The country reported 86,288 new infections on Saturday, as its first-dose vaccination rate reached 95 percent.
Back in Djokovich's homeland however, the star has received widespread support and on Sunday, Serbia's president Aleksandar Vucic, again criticized his treatment.
“They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this 10-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves. If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated,” Vucic told reporters.