By Sonali Paul and Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Novak Djokovic was back in training hours after winning a court challenge to remain in Australia on Monday, thanking the judge who released him from immigration detention and saying he remained focused on trying to win a record 21st tennis major.
The fight over the world number one's medical exemption https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/djokovic-will-defend-australian-open-title-after-exemption-vaccination-2022-01-04 from COVID-19 vaccination in order to enter Australia and play may not be over, however, as the government said it was still considering another way to deport him.
"I am pleased and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation," Djokovic wrote on Twitter https://twitter.com/DjokerNole?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor, where he posted a photograph of himself on court at Melbourne Park after a chaotic few days.
"Despite all that has happened I want to stay and try to compete at the Australian Open."
Judge Anthony Kelly ruled the federal government's decision https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/djokovic-begins-4th-day-australian-detention-legal-hearing-looms-2022-01-08 last week to revoke the Serbian tennis star's visa was "unreasonable", and ordered his release from a modest hotel also used to house scores of asylum seekers.
"Novak is free and just a moment ago he went to the tennis court to practice," Djokovic's younger brother Djordje told a family news conference https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/djokovic-back-practice-family-hails-biggest-victory-his-life-2022-01-10 in Belgrade. "He's out there to set another record."
Djokovic, who arrived in Australia last week, spent most of the day at his lawyers' chambers.
Supporters who had gathered outside https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/chaos-melbourne-fans-call-djokovics-release-2022-01-10 chanting "Free Novak!" surged around a black car with tinted windows leaving the building, while police used pepper spray to try to clear a path.
The saga has triggered diplomatic tensions between Belgrade and Canberra, dismayed some Australians enduring a surge in cases, and fuelled domestic political point-scoring.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said he was considering using his discretionary power to revoke Djokovic's visa again. That could mean a three-year ban on re-entering.
"The minister is currently considering the matter and the process remains ongoing," the spokesman said.
Spain's Rafa Nadal, who is tied on 20 majors with Djokovic and Switzerland's Roger Federer, called the fraught build-up to the tournament a "circus".
"Justice has spoken and has said that he has the right to participate in the Australian Open and I think it is the fairest decision," Nadal told the Spanish radio station Onda Cero.
The Australian Open begins on Jan. 17. Djokovic has won the tournament, one of tennis' four Grand Slams, for the last three years and nine times in all.
Czech player Renata Voracova, whose visa was also cancelled, told Reuters she welcomed the decision to let him stay: "Hopefully he can play. Because that is what we went there for: to play tennis and not be part of any inside games."
Former American player turned pundit Pam Shriver warned on Twitter the controversy may not be over: "If he plays the booing will be deafening."
Judge Kelly said he had quashed the decision to block Djokovic's entry because the player had not been given enough time to respond to it.
Officials at Melbourne's airport, where Djokovic had been detained late on Wednesday, reneged on an agreement to give him until 8:30 a.m. to speak to Tennis Australia and lawyers, Kelly said.
The player, who has long opposed mandatory vaccination, told border officials he was unvaccinated and had had COVID-19 twice, according to a transcript of the interview.
Kelly told the court it appeared Djokovic had received the medical exemption from COVID-19 vaccination on the basis that he had contracted the virus last month, and had presented evidence of the infection before travelling and on arrival.
"What more could this man have done?" he said.
Kelly's ruling did not directly address the issue of whether the exemption on the grounds of an infection in the past six months was valid, which the government had disputed.
Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley has said his organisation had spoken with federal and state officials for months to ensure the safe passage of players. Tennis Australia did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
The authorities' efforts to let the media and public follow events in court at times descended into farce, with pranksters hijacking internet links to stream loud music and porn. https://www.reuters.com/business/media-telecom/pranksters-hijack-djokovics-virtual-court-hearing-stream-music-porn-2022-01-10
Though news of the ruling was greeted with drums and dancing by around 50 supporters outside the court, public opinion in Australia, where more than 90% of the adult population is double vaccinated, has been largely against the player. Melbourne has experienced the world's longest cumulative lockdown.
Australia has registered more than half a million cases in the past week.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul and Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Ivana Sekularac and Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; additional reporting by Byron Kaye, Cordelia Hsu, Loren Elliott and John Mair; Writing by Jane Wardell and Alex Richardson; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)