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Sunday, January 16, 2022 8:00 am

Djokovic leaves Australia after losing deportation appeal

ROD McGUIRK | Associated Press

 

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Novak Djokovic left Australia on Sunday evening after losing his final bid to avoid deportation and play in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19. A court earlier unanimously dismissed the No. 1-ranked tennis player’s challenge to cancel his visa.

Djokovic, a 34-year-old from Serbia, said he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling but respected it.

A masked Djokovic was photographed in an Melbourne airport lounge with two government officials in black uniforms. He left on an Emirates flight to Dubai, the same United Arab Emirates city from which he flew to Australia.

He has won a record nine Australian Open titles, including three in a row, but this time won’t even get the chance to try.

“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he said in a statement.

Djokovic said he was uncomfortable that the focus had been on him since his visa was first canceled on arrival at Mebourne's airport on Jan. 6.

“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he said.

The national federation that runs the tournament, Tennis Australia, said it respects the decision of the Federal Court.

“We look forward to a competitive and exciting Australian Open 2022 and wish all players the best of luck,” it said in a statement.

A deportation order also usually includes a three-year ban on returning to Australia.

In Serbia, President Aleksandar Vucic said the hearing was “a farce with a lot of lies.”

“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.

He said he told Djokovic after talking to him "that we can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome.”

Chief Justice James Allsop said the ruling came down to whether the minister's decision was "irrational or legally unreasonable.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed what he described as the “decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe.”

But opposition spokesperson on the home affairs portfolio, Kristina Keneally, said Djokovic was being deported for what he said and did publicly overseas before the government gave him a visa in November.

“This mess isn’t a failure of our laws. It’s a failure of Morrison’s competence & leadership,” Keneally tweeted.

The pandemic response has become politically charged with Morrison's conservative coalition seeking a fourth three-year term at elections due by May.

Infection rates have soared across much of Australian since December when Morrison's government relaxed what had been some of the democratic world's toughest restrictions on international travel.

“I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this,” he said.

 

 

Djokovic has won nine Australian Open titles, including three in a row, and a total of 20 Grand Slam singles trophies, tied with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis.

Djokovic’s dominance of late has been particularly impressive, winning four of the last seven major tournaments and finishing as the runner-up at two others.

The only time he did not get at least to the final in that span was at the 2020 U.S. Open, where he was disqualified in the fourth round for hitting a ball that inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat after a game.

Because Djokovic has withdrawn from the tournament after Monday’s schedule was released, he has been replaced in the field by what’s known as a “lucky loser” -- a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but gets into the main draw because of another player’s exit before competition has started. That player is Italian Salvatore Caruso, who is ranked 150th in the world.

John Pye of the Associated Press in Melbourne, Australia, Howard Fendrich in Washington, D.C., and Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed to this story.

 

      

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