Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has left the door open for Novak Djokovic to compete at next year's Australian Open despite the tennis superstar facing an automatic three-year ban from entering the country.
The world No. 1 player left Australia late on Sunday after the Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa, capping days of drama over the country's COVID-19 entry rules and his unvaccinated status.
Under immigration law, Djokovic cannot be granted another visa for three years, unless Australia's immigration minister accepts there are compelling or compassionate reasons.
"I'm not going to precondition any of that or say anything that would not enable the minister to make the various calls he has to make," Morrison told 2GB radio on Monday as Djokovic was en route to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
"It does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for [a person] to return in the right circumstances, and that will be considered at the time."
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge Federal Court bench dealt a final blow to Djokovic's hopes of chasing a record 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday, dismaying his family and supporters.
In a roller-coaster ride, the world's top men's player was first detained by immigration authorities on Jan. 6, ordered released by a court on Jan. 10 and then detained again on Saturday pending Sunday's court hearing.
Djokovic, 34, said he was extremely disappointed by the ruling but that he respected the court's decision.
The Serbian player was filmed by Reuters wearing a mask and taking selfies with fans at the arrival gate in Dubai as he waited for his entourage to follow him off the plane.
Djokovic was escorted by airline staff on a terminal buggy to the departure gate for a flight a few hours later to Belgrade. He checked in alone for the six-hour flight.
The saga caused a row between Canberra and Belgrade, with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic calling the court decision "scandalous."
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Monday that she and Morrison had been in touch with Brnabic during the legal process last week.
"I am absolutely confident that the very positive relationship, bilateral relationship between Australia and Serbia will continue on the strong footing that it currently enjoys," Payne told reporters.
Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had said Djokovic could be a threat to public order because his presence would encourage anti-vaccination sentiment amid Australia's worst coronavirus outbreak.
The Federal Court judges noted their ruling was based on the lawfulness and legality of the minister's decision but did not address "the merits or wisdom" of the decision. They have yet to release the full reasoning behind their decision.