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Novak Djokovic prepares vaccine exemption case in Australia

Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic has prepared his legal guns for a battle to stay in Melbourne and defend his Australian Open title, arguing he has the all-clear because of a positive coronavirus test in December.

Djokovic’s fight to overturn the shock cancellation of his visa and his ensuing detention in a notorious Melbourne immigration facility will culminate in a highly publicised online hearing in federal court on Monday.

The vaccine-sceptic Serbian star awaited the showdown holed up in the former Park Hotel, a five-storey facility that holds about 32 migrants trapped in Australia’s hardline immigration system – some for years.

Nobody is allowed in or out except staff.

A handful of protesters gathered Sunday morning on the street outside, where hundreds of fans, anti-vaccination demonstrators and migrant rights activists had rallied in party mood the previous day.

READ MORE: Djokovic kept at airport for eight hours despite vaccine exemption

With eight days to go before the January 17 start of the Australian Open, any delay could dash the 34-year-old’s hopes of winning his 10th crown in Melbourne, and a record 21st Grand Slam title.

In an order released to the public Sunday, Judge Anthony Kelly said the case will go ahead as scheduled at 10 am Monday (2300 GMT Sunday), refusing a government request to adjourn until Wednesday.

Djokovic’s lawyers submitted a 35-page document Saturday arguing his visa was wrongly cancelled and should be reinstated, allowing him free to compete.

The team has argued that Djokovic’s positive PCR test on December 16, 2021 means he meets the criteria for a vaccine exemption under the guidance of Australia’s own immunisation advisory body.

READ MORE: Djokovic Covid-jab exemption sparks anger and confusion

No exemption for foreign nationals

Tennis Australia cleared him for an exemption to play in the tournament, after his application was approved by two independent medical panels, his lawyers said.

Australia’s government, however, insists a recent coronavirus infection only counts as an exemption for residents, not for foreign nationals trying to enter the country.

Foreigners are still mostly banned from travel to Australia, and those granted entry must be fully vaccinated or have a medical exemption.

Serbia slams Australia’s ‘maltreatment’ of Novak Djokovic

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.

As much of Australia tightened restrictions to battle a wave of infections fuelled by the Omicron virus variant, the state of Victoria – of which Melbourne is the capital – reported 44,155 cases on Sunday.

READ MORE: Djokovic in deportation limbo after Australia court adjourns visa appeal

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended revoking Djokovic’s visa, saying: “Rules are rules.”

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