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A judge reinstates Djokovic's visa but his Australian Open status remains unclear

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Tennis star Novak Djokovic is accustomed to victory, and he is once again a winner, this time in a court of law. Today in Melbourne, an Australian judge handed Djokovic a legal victory restoring his visa. It was canceled by immigration authorities last week because he isn't vaccinated against COVID. The judge also ordered him released from hotel quarantine. Djokovic is in Melbourne for the Australian Open tennis tournament, which gets underway next week. To qualify for that event, players must show proof of COVID vaccination or qualify for a medical exemption. Djokovic is one of a number of athletes who are publicly opposed to vaccination. For more, we're going to Tom Maddocks, who covers sports in Melbourne for ABC. That's the Australian broadcasting network. Tom, what are the factors that went into the judge's decision?

TOM MADDOCKS: Well, today the legal battle that Djokovic forged to - against deportation really worked in his favor from the beginning. Djokovic's lawyers really dominated the proceedings in the federal court here in Australia, and they contended that Novak Djokovic had effectively done all he could in producing the documents required to enter Australia and relating to this medical exemption that he had been granted by not one but two independent medical expert panels who reviewed his application for that exemption to get into the country and compete in next week's Australian Open.

So his lawyers said that they - that he had ticked all the boxes he needed to. And then the judge in the case, Judge Anthony Kelly, seemed to support the contention from Novak Djokovic's lawyers. At one point, the judge said that he felt agitated by the treatment Djokovic had received from Australian Border Force officials. That is immigration authorities here. And he asked the court at one point, what more can this man do? He then went on to suggest that Novak Djokovic was not afforded enough time on that morning when he was detained by Border Force officials, when he arrived in Australia, from when they decided to revoke his visa and not afford enough time to respond that morning.

So that was where the heart of the argument lay in today's proceedings. And of course, there was quite a sensational outcome this evening, Melbourne time, when the judge ordered in the favor of Novak Djokovic to overturn that decision to revoke his visa, his passport and other effects that he immediately returned and for him to be released from immigration detention here in Australia.

MARTINEZ: What's the reaction been from immigration authorities there?

MADDOCKS: Well, we're still waiting from the Commonwealth Government to respond. So what's critical here is that what emerged after the decision in the court was that the Commonwealth retained the power to rescind or re-cancel Novak Djokovic's visa, regardless of the outcome in favor of Novak Djokovic. So the federal immigration minister - he's a guy by the name of Alex Hawke. He put out a statement a short time ago saying that they're still - he's still considering whether he will use his discretionary powers to re-cancel Novak Djokovic's visa. So we're yet to hear as to whether they will exercise that power. If he does, it's possible that Novak Djokovic won't be able to return to Australia for another three years, which is - which, of course, would be a huge blow to his bid to win a 10th Australian Open title. And of course, as you know, he sits on 20 grand slam singles titles at the moment - equal record.

MARTINEZ: So as it stands now, the Australian Open begins on the 17. Will he be competing at the moment?

MADDOCKS: At the moment, he's been released from immigration detention and we understand he's been released from this building where I'm outside of where he was - he was granted leave from the immigration detention hotel this afternoon to come to this building alongside his lawyers to hear the outcome of this hearing. There was a huge mob of Serbian fans waiting outside this building. They mobbed the car, which came out of this building. Police deployed pepper spray. There were some quite ugly scenes, to be honest. We're unsure if Novak Djokovic was inside that car. We're unsure where he's headed to next. And it's unclear, to answer your question, whether he will be able to remain in Australia and compete in next week's Australian Open. But critically, it comes down to the decision from the federal immigration minister here in Australia. Novak Djokovic's fight really lies in his hands.

MARTINEZ: That's ABC's Tom Maddocks in Melbourne. Tom, thanks.

MADDOCKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.