Melbourne, Jan 16 (IANS): Novak Djokovic's Australian sojourn for the year's first Grand Slam came to a disappointing end on Sunday with the government deporting the Serbian World No. 1 after a Federal court panel dismissed his appeal against the cancellation of his visa.
Djokovic boarded a plane to Dubai, on way to Serbia, on the eve of the Australian Open, in which the top seed was hoping to win his 21st Grand Slam title, breaking the tie with archrivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Australia's Federal Court on Sunday dismissed the world No. 1's application to have his visa cancellation overturned one day before the start of the Australian Open, in which Djokovic had been expected to defend his title.
Three Federal Court judges upheld a decision made on Friday by the immigration minister to cancel the 34-year-old Serb's visa on public interest grounds.
Djokovic was initially given a medical exemption by the Victorian state and Melbourne authorities for competing in the Australian Open after he declared that he had Covid-19 in December last year. But the Federal authorities cancelled the medical exemption and the visa.
The star players' lawyers had then appeared before a single-judge bench, which had reinstated the ace player's visa. But the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on January 14 used his discretionary powers to cancel the visa given to Djokovic because it was in the public interest to do so because of players' Covid-19 vaccination stance.
As a last recourse, Djokovic again appealed his deportation from Australia before a three-member Federal judge panel, which upheld the Immigration Minister's January 14 order.
A report on sen.com.au said on Sunday, "The hearing took four hours, with the government claiming the 34-year-old's presence in Australia would excite anti-vaccination sentiments, while Djokovic's lawyers argued that the 20-time grand slam champion was no risk to public order.
"Chief Justice James Allsop and the court came to the decision at 5:45 pm (Aus time) in a unanimous verdict, while written reasons will be given at a later date," said the report.
After the court's decision, the nine-time Australian Open men's singles title winner in a statement said he was disappointed with the ruling but he respects it and will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to his departure from the country.
"I would like to make a brief statement to address the outcomes of today's court hearing. I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this. I am extremely disappointed with the ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the minister's decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open," Djokovic was quoted as saying.
"I respect the court's ruling and I'll cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my 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. I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.
"Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me," he added.
In a few pictures on social media, the player and his team was seen reaching the Melbourne Airport for their flight home.
Federal agents escorted him and his team and the star player boarded an Emirates flight to Dubai on Sunday night, a journey expected to take 14 hours, The Age reported.
The 34-year-old, who is an opponent of people being forced to take the Covid-19 vaccine, was scheduled to play country-mate Miomir Kecmanovic on the Rod Laver Arena on January 17. He has been now replaced by World number 150 Salvatore Caruso in the Australian Open men's singles draw.
The deportation of Djokovic by Australia evoked a strong reaction in Serbia.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said Australia has "humiliated themselves".
"They think that they have by this, this mistreatment of ten days humiliated Djokovic, but they have humiliated themselves. Djokovic can return to his country with his head held high," Vucic told a state media outlet.
The Serbian Olympic Committee also made their disgust clear as they sought to rally support for Djokovic. "We are proud of Novak Djokovic and the way he coped with these extremely difficult and unpleasant circumstances. Despite this scandalous decision, we believe Novak came out as the winner again," the committee said in a statement posted online.
Miomir Kecmanovic, who was set to face nine-time champion Djokovic in the first round of the Australian Open, called the incident a "bitter pill to swallow".
"Our little Serbian team here in Melbourne is upset and disappointed and I think we have to make an extra effort to somehow avenge our best representative who was prevented from being here," Kecmanovic wrote on Instagram.