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Djokovic's appeal of canceled visa moves to higher court ahead of Australian Open

Novak Djokovic of Serbia (C) attends a practice session ahead of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Friday. Immigration minister Alex Hawke canceled his visa, threatening his participating in the tournament when it opens on Monday. Photo by Diego Fedele/EPA-EFE

Jan. 14 (UPI) — Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic’s ongoing fight to compete in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19 moved to a higher court Saturday as the top-ranked men’s player appealed the second cancellation of his visa.

A brief procedural hearing was held Saturday morning after Djokovic’s visa was canceled for a second time on the grounds of “health and good order.” In that hearing, Justice David O’Callaghan confirmed the case was transferred from the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.

The hearing for Djokovic’s visa appeal will now take place Sunday at 9:30 a.m. local time — 5:30 p.m. EST on Saturday — at the Federal Court of Australia, officials said.

O’Callaghan said Saturday the court will consider whether the proceeding should be heard in front of one or three federal court judges later in the day.

Djokovic is expected to spend Saturday night in pre-immigration detention after his latest appeal.

On Friday, Australia canceled the visa of Djokovic for a second time, days before he was to compete for a fourth consecutive Australian Open title.

Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke announced the termination of the Serbian’s visa in a statement, saying he made the decision on the grounds of “health and good order” and “on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision not only threatens to have Djokovic deported but to potentially prohibit him from entering the country for three years, which would bar the world’s No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player from competing in the Australian Open through 2024.

Hawke had been mulling whether to use his personal powers as minister to terminate Djokovic’s visa after it had been reinstated by a judge on Monday. The tennis star was initially detained on his arrival in Melbourne on Jan. 5 and had his visa canceled due to procedural issues around his status as unvaccinated against COVID-19.

“In making my decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr. Djokovic,” Hawke wrote in the brief statement. “The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s border, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Controversy over Djokovic’s visa began when he attempted to enter the country last week with a medical exemption that had been granted by Victoria state officials and Tennis Australia based on his recovery from a COVID-19 case in December. However, immigration officials did not accept the 34-year-old athlete’s exemption on his arrival and canceled his visa.

After a judge on Monday ordered his release and reinstated his visa, it was learned that not only was Hawke considering to again cancel his entry permit but that immigration officials were scrutinizing his travel documents.

On Wednesday, Djokovic admitted to falsely declaring that he did not travel internationally 14 days prior to landing in Australia. He also confirmed that he had attended events in mid-December in Belgrade after knowing he was infected with the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday defended Hawke’s decision as a move to protect the sacrifices Australians have made to keep deaths from the pandemic low, the economy strong and vaccination rates high.

“This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today,” he said in a statement. “Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, prior to COVID and now during the pandemic.”

Djokovic was seeded first in the Australian Open, and he is scheduled to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of the tournament Monday.

Novak Djokovic looks up and smiles after a long point while playing in the U.S. Open finals against Roger Federer in New York City on September 9, 2007. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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