Djokovic lawyers claim ‘no evidence’ of anti-vax agenda as court showdown looms

Novak Djokovic has arrived at his lawyer’s office for a virtual Federal Court hearing in a last-ditch effort to fight a government decision to cancel his visa for a second time.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his discretionary powers late on Friday to cancel the tennis world No.1’s visa, after considering evidence from Djokovic’s lawyers, along with advice from federal agencies.

The tennis star spent Saturday night at the Park Hotel in Melbourne’s Carlton, which is being used as an immigration detention centre.

He left the hotel about 8.30am on Sunday in the back of a white four-wheel drive, flanked by Australian Border Force guards, to drive to his lawyer’s office to watch the virtual hearing.

Wearing a navy outfit, Djokovic looked straight ahead as media surrounded the vehicle.

The grand slam champion’s lawyers have submitted there is “no evidence” the tennis star has pushed an anti-jab agenda since COVID vaccines have become available.

In court documents, Djokovic’s lawyers stated he had not made any strong public statements against vaccination since April 2020, before the first coronavirus jabs were available.

“There was no evidence before the respondent that Mr Djokovic had made any comments about his vaccination status or expressed any ‘views’ regarding vaccination at any time during which he has been in Australia … or at any other time in any other location (post April 2020)” his lawyers submitted.

The Immigration minister’s full list of reasons was published as part of a 268-page affidavit released by the Federal Court on Saturday.

In it, Mr Hawke suggested the unvaccinated Serbian’s presence during the Australian Open could encourage residents to shirk isolation rules, given the tennis star’s concession to having previously done so, and foster “anti-vaccination sentiment”.

This, the minister said, could prompt public doubt about the efficacy of vaccines and lead to civil unrest akin to previous anti-vaccination protests and fewer people getting their booster jab.

Flatly rejected

Djokovic’s law firm Hall & Wilcox flatly rejected the claim in its grounds for appealing the visa cancellation, saying the minister had not cited any evidence to back it up.

The firm argued Mr Hawke’s contention could “not logically, rationally and reasonably be assessed” without considering whether booting Djokovic out of the country would excite similar anti-vaccination sentiments.

Djokovic was on Saturday afternoon driven from his lawyer’s office to the Park Hotel in Melbourne’s Carlton, which is being used as an immigration detention centre.

Wearing a green tracksuit and a white face mask, he appeared composed in the back of a vehicle.

The 34-year-old was detained at the hotel for four nights when his visa was first cancelled and spent a fifth evening in detention overnight.

He is set to face Chief Justice James Allsop, Justice Anthony Besanko and Justice David O’Callaghan in a full court hearing at the Federal Court of Australia from 9.30am on Sunday.

Djokovic’s visa cancellation dramas have dominated the build-up to the year’s first grand slam.

Australia’s top male player, Alex de Minaur, said he was frustrated by the ongoing focus on the Serbian superstar’s off-court problems.

“This whole situation has taken a lot of spotlight away from us competitors,” the world No.34 said on Saturday at Melbourne Park.

“It feels like it’s taking away from us competitors who just want to start.

“I’m just ready to put all of this behind me and focus on playing my tennis matches … we all just want to get on with our own stuff.”

With Roger Federer again missing the Open through injury, the door will open wider for 2009 champion Rafael Nadal to go one clear of his two great rivals by winning a record 21st men’s grand slam title if Djokovic is ruled out.

More important than one player

Nadal said despite reigning champion Djokovic’s domination in Australia, no single player was bigger than a grand slam.

“It’s very clear that Novak Djokovic is one of the best players of the history, without a doubt,” the 35-year-old said.

“But there is no one player in history that’s more important than an event.

“The players stay and then go, and other players are coming.

“No-one, even Roger (Federer), Novak, myself, Bjorn Borg, who was amazing at his time, tennis keeps going.

“Australian Open is much more important than any player. If he’s playing finally, OK. If he’s not playing, Australian Open will be great Australian Open with or without him.”

Fellow Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, the women’s third seed, has little sympathy for Djokovic.

“All this could have been avoided, like we’ve all done, by getting vaccinated, doing all the things we had to do to come here in Australia,” said the two-time major champion and 2020 AO runner-up.

Australian veteran Sam Stosur, playing in her last Open, said she hoped the Djokovic saga didn’t “tarnish” this year’s tournament.

“We want the Aussie Open to be for good things, not unfortunately what the Novak situation has become,” Stosur said.

-with AAP

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