Novak Djokovic will fight his visa cancellation in court today as he seeks to keep his Australian Open campaign alive.
The world's top male tennis player thought he'd successfully received a vaccination exemption to enter the country but he was turned around by the Australian Border Force when he touched down in Melbourne last week.
Djokovic has since been holed up in a detention hotel as he waited for his lawyers to have the chance to argue his case to remain in Australia and chase his 10th title at Melbourne Park.
In an order released to the public on Sunday, Judge Anthony Kelly said the one-day case will go ahead as scheduled at 10am (12pm NZT) today, refusing a government request to adjourn until Wednesday.
Australia's cruel new threat to Djokovic
Djokovic is arguing he has a valid reason for a medical exemption not to be vaccinated against Covid-19 because he has contracted the virus within the last six months.
His lawyers submitted a 35-page document Saturday arguing his visa was wrongly cancelled and should be reinstated, allowing him to compete.
The team argued that Djokovic's claim of a positive PCR test on December 16 means he meets the criteria for a vaccine exemption under the guidance of Australia's immunisation advisory body.
But Australia's Home Affairs Department has rebuffed his arguments point-by-point and urged the judge to dismiss the case, with costs.
Djokovic is unvaccinated and poses a risk to people and the health system in Australia, the government said in a 13-page document lodged with the court on Sunday.
The government added "there is no such thing as an assurance of entry by a non-citizen into Australia".
"As for material given to the applicant by the Department, it had not represented to the applicant that his so-called 'medical exemption' would be accepted," the submission said.
Significantly, the government's submission also said it retains the right to keep Djokovic detained even if he wins Monday's case.
"If the Court makes an additional order for immediate release of the applicant, notwithstanding the above, the respondent submits that the Court should make it expressly clear that that order does not purport to (nor could it) prevent the respondent or any officer of the Commonwealth from exercising any power to detain that might be available to him or her despite the quashing of the delegate's cancellation decision," the submission said.
"An order for immediate release does not prevent re-detention if there is power to detain."
Both sides clash over exemption argument
Djokovic's lawyers say Tennis Australia cleared him to play in the tournament because of his recent Covid infection, saying his vaccine application was approved by two independent medical panels.
But Australia's vaccination exemption form clearly states that a previous infection "is not a contraindication to immunisation", the government lawyers stressed.
Despite Djokovic's claim of a positive test on December 16, photos shared by the Belgrade Tennis Federation showed him at a young players' event in the city on December 17.
It reported that he had handed over cups and prizes to players. No one was wearing a mask.
Djokovic also attended a gathering on December 16, when the Serbian national postal service launched a stamp series in his honour.
"Thank you to my generous country for this rare gift! I'm humbled!!" he said on Instagram at the time.
The tennis ace's lawyers argued that he faced an "unfair procedure", claiming Australian border agents refused him time to rest and consult lawyers.
But the government rejected this, saying Djokovic had an opportunity to put his case to a border agent and had previously contacted his lawyers.
Since being held, his pleas to be moved to a facility where he can train for the Australian Open have fallen on deaf ears, his lawyers said.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said this weekend that Serbia was fully behind the player and she had held "constructive talks" with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
"We managed that he gets gluten-free food, exercise equipment, a laptop," she told Serbia's Pink television.
Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley on Sunday defended his organisation from criticism that it failed to warn players that a previous infection did not qualify them for entry without a Covid-19 vaccination.
"We are not going to lay the blame on anyone because there is much contradictory information," Tiley told Nine.
A second tennis player who was headed to the Australian Open – Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova – had her visa was cancelled after initially being allowed into the country.
She flew out of Australia on the weekend after being held in the same Melbourne centre as Djokovic.