Novak Djokovic detained again, fights deportation before Australian Open

Novak Djokovic Australian Open
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic was back in immigration detention Saturday after his legal challenge to avoid being deported from Australia for being unvaccinated for COVID-19 was moved to higher court.

A Federal Court hearing has been scheduled for Sunday, a day before the men’s No. 1-ranked tennis player and nine-time Australian Open champion was due to begin his title defense at the first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year.

Djokovic and his lawyers had a morning meeting with immigration officials and, by mid-afternoon, Australian media reported the tennis star was taken back into detention. Television footage showed the 34-year-old Serb wearing a face mask as he sat in a vehicle near an immigration detention hotel.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

He spent four nights confined to a hotel near downtown Melbourne before being released last Monday when he won a court challenge on procedural grounds against his first visa cancellation.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on Friday blocked the visa, which was originally revoked when he landed at a Melbourne airport on Jan. 5.

Deportation from Australia can lead to a three-year ban on returning to the country, although that may be waived, depending on the circumstances.

Djokovic has acknowledged that his travel declaration was incorrect because it failed to indicate that he’d been in multiple countries in the two-week period before his arrival in Australia.

But that wasn’t why Hawke decided that deporting Djokovic was in the public interest.

Lawyers for Djokovic filed documents in court that revealed Hawke had stated that the tennis star “is perceived by some as a talisman of a community of anti-vaccination sentiment.”

Australia has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world.

But the minister said Djokovic’s presence in Australia may be a risk to the health and “good order” of the Australian public and “may be counterproductive to efforts at vaccination by others in Australia.”

The Health Department advised that Djokovic was a “low” risk of transmitting COVID-19 and a “very low” risk of transmitting the disease at the Australian Open.”

The minister cited comments Djokovic made in April 2020 that he was “opposed to vaccination” and had wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine to compete.

Djokovic’s lawyers argued that the minister had cited no evidence that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may “foster anti-vaccination sentiment.”

Hundreds of activists held a peaceful rally outside the Melbourne Park complex that hosts the Australian Open, and planned another for Monday.

“We’re at Rod Laver Arena to support Novak. He’s won nine (Australian Open) titles here. Hopefully this will be No. 10 — if he can get out of quarantine and get his visa back,” Harrison McLean, one of the rally organizers, said. “We’re a peaceful movement, here to raise awareness and support everyone’s freedom of choice.”

On Saturday, Federal Chief Justice James Allsop announced that he would hear the case with Justices David O’Callaghan and Anthony Besanko.

The decision for three judges to hear the appeal instead of a single judge elevates the importance of the case from the judiciary’s perspective and means any verdict would be less likely to be appealed.

Djokovic, who has won the last three Australian Open titles, will be allowed out of hotel detention on Sunday to visit his lawyers’ offices for the video court hearing.

He is seeking a record 21st Grand Slam singles title. He is currently tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the most by a man in history.

In a post on social media Wednesday that constituted his most extensive public comments yet on the episode, Djokovic blamed his agent for checking the wrong box on his travel document, calling it “a human error and certainly not deliberate.”

In that same post, Djokovic said he went ahead with an interview and a photo shoot with a French newspaper in Serbia despite knowing he’d tested positive for COVID-19. Djokovic has been attempting to use what he says was a positive test taken on Dec. 16 to justify a medical exemption that would allow him to avoid the vaccine requirement on the grounds that he already had COVID-19.

In canceling Djokovic’ visa, Hawke said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The episode has touched a nerve in Australia, and particularly in Victoria state, where locals went through more than 260 days of lockdowns during the worst of the pandemic.

Australia faces a massive surge in virus cases driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Friday, the nation reported 130,000 new cases, including nearly 35,000 in Victoria state. Although many infected people aren’t getting as sick as they did in previous outbreaks, the surge is still putting severe strain on the health system and disrupting supply chains.

Djokovic’s supporters in Serbia have been dismayed by the visa cancellations. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has accused the Australian government of “harassing” and “maltreating” Djokovic and asked whether Morrison’s government is just trying to score political points ahead of upcoming elections.

“Why didn’t you return him back right away, or tell him it was impossible to get a visa?” Vucic asked the Australian authorities in a social media address. “Why are you harassing him and why are you maltreating not only him, but his family and an entire nation that is free and proud.”

Everyone at the Australian Open is required to be vaccinated.

According to Grand Slam rules, if Djokovic is forced to pull out of the tournament before the order of play for Day 1 is announced, No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev would move into Djokovic’s spot in the bracket.

If Djokovic withdraws from the tournament after Monday’s schedule is released, he would be replaced in the field by what’s known as a “lucky loser” — a player who loses in the qualifying tournament but gets into the main draw because of another player’s exit before competition has started.

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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