Djokovic set for grilling over Open fate

Murray Wenzel |

Novak Djokovic faces the prospect of a double-barrelled cross examination grilling in Federal Court to earn his shot at a historic 21st grand slam.

The world No.1’s court fight to remain in the country and defend his Australian Open title is set to go ahead on Monday after a late bid by federal government lawyers to delay the case until Wednesday.

The 34-year-old Serb and nine-time Australian Open champion has been in immigration detention in Melbourne since Thursday morning after having his visa cancelled by the federal government.

His lawyers will argue that he met the criteria for a temporary exemption under Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) guidelines and that he was denied procedural fairness during the decision to revoke his visa.

Djokovic, who is likely to present to the hearing virtually, could be cross-examined by both the judge and the government’s barrister.

How he responds will be crucial after documents were released by the Federal Court on Saturday, showing Djokovic contracted COVID-19 on December 16 and was free from symptoms before he arrived in Australia.

Eyebrows were raised when pictures then surfaced of Djokovic attending public events, indoors, unmasked and with children in the days that followed his positive test confirmation.

A leaked TA document to players also indicated the deadline for medical exemption applications was December 10, meaning Djokovic’s ensuing positive test appeared to be his only avenue to a last-minute green light.

A vocal opponent of vaccine mandates, Djokovic had previously declined to reveal his vaccination status or reason for seeking a medical exemption for sidestepping Australia’s vaccine rules.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt, asked about the Djokovic furore at a media conference on Sunday, declined to comment since it was before the court, but noted that several other people involved in the tournament had their visas revoked.

Czech player Renata Voracova, who was detained in the same detention hotel as Djokovic and had her visa revoked after issues with her vaccine exemption, left the country without challenging her status, the Czech Foreign Ministry said.

Djokovic’s situation has rankled his homeland and even drawn support from traditional foe Nick Kyrgios, who said “it’s not really humane, is it, what’s going on?”.

“Honestly, I hope it all gets sorted as soon as possible. For the sport, we need him here, it’s that simple,” Kyrgios said.

Great rival Rafael Nadal, also stuck on 20 grand slam titles but a staunch advocate of vaccination, has been less sympathetic though.

“He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences,” he said.