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New twist in Djokovic saga - should he get a hotel with a tennis court?

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Tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic’s lawyers have fronted a Victorian court, challenging his impending deportation ahead of the Australian Open.

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The nine-time champion’s application challenging the Australian Border Force’s decision to cancel his visa is yet to be formally listed, but arguments will be heard in the Federal Court later on Thursday.

His lawyers fronted the Federal Court in Melbourne on Thursday, applying for a judicial review of the visa cancellation decision by Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews.

The Serbian superstar claimed he had an exemption against vaccination allowing him to enter Australia, but it appears it was only granted for the tournament and not entry into the country.

He arrived in Australia late Wednesday night and after being detained at the airport was transferred to the Park Hotel in Carlton – an alternative place of immigration detention.

Djokovic will not be moved before 5pm on Thursday, government lawyers have revealed.

Justice Anthony Kelly said there had been no formal application or supporting evidence filed in the Federal Court during a brief hearing just before 3pm on Thursday.

“I need to know a little more than I presently do about the conditions of the applicant,” he said.

The judge confessed to knowing little about tennis, questioning when Djokovic would be required at the tournament, if allowed to play.

The Australian Open begins on January 17 and he’s expected to play on day one or two, his lawyers said.

Justice Kelly also questioned what resources were available for Djokovic.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for the court to ask, as an open question, whether the particular hotel in which the applicant is staying or may be able to stay might have available to him tennis practising facilities,” he asked.

The hearing was expected to resume at around 4pm.

Soon after news of the decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa broke, Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to social media to declare the tennis star was not above the rules.

“Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules,” Mr Morrison posted on Twitter.

“Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of lowest death rates in the world from COVID, we are continuing to be vigilant.”

At a press conference later, he denied the Serb had been targeted.

“When people make public statements about what they have … they draw significant attention to themselves … and whoever does that, they can expect to be asked more questions than others,” Morrison said.

Morrison said entry to Australia required double vaccination or a medical exemption, which Djokovic did not have, and that “rules are rules”.

“People must be fully vaccinated as defined by ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) to gain quarantine-free entry into Australia,” he said on Thursday.

“That means people who do not meet the definition will not be approved for quarantine-free entry.

“I am advised that such an exemption was not in place and as a result he is subject to the same rule as anyone else.”

It’s been revealed that the Department of Health sent Tiley two letters in November stipulating that a Covid infection in the past six months would not satisfy entry requirements for unvaccinated players.

It’s believed the world No.1 men’s player applied for an exemption on those grounds.

Australia’s women’s world No.1 Ash Barty said she understood the frustration in the community at the exemption decision.

“It’s a tough one. As we’ve seen a little bit in the last day or so, from the Australian public, I know how hard it has been for Australians… but in particular Victorians have had a real rough trot over the last 18 months and two years,” she said.

By the afternoon, supporters draped in Serbian flags danced outside the Swanston St hotel, where Djokovic was taken from the airport, watched by a sizeable media congregation.

The hotel has a chequered history.

For more than a year, the facility has housed detainees flown to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru for urgent medical care under now-defunct Medevac laws.

The detainees had previously been held at the Mantra Hotel in Preston.

More than 50 were freed on bridging visas in January last year, but about a dozen remained behind.

There was a Covid-19 outbreak at the hotel in October, with at least 22 of the 46 refugees and asylum seekers testing positive.

Two weeks ago, two fires broke out on the third and fourth floors. A person was taken to hospital with smoke inhalation and police said a staff member was assaulted.

Refugee advocates estimate about 32 men are detained there.

Protesters scaled the hotel facade about 2pm on Thursday, holding banners and signs calling for the refugees’ release.

“These people were held by Australia as maritime arrivals for seeking asylum,” advocate Jane Salmon said in a statement.

“They have been held nine years. Perhaps the empathy of a man of Novak’s profile will help them obtain freedom.”

Before it was turned into a makeshift detention centre, the Park Hotel was used as a quarantine hotel in 2020.

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