Tennis star Novak Djokovic could return to Australia sooner than anticipated following his deportation, the country’s prime minister says.
The top men’s player was deported on Sunday after losing a visa battle that centred on the fact he is unvaccinated.
Under Australia’s immigration laws, Djokovic, 34, cannot be granted another visa for three years.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he could be allowed entry sooner under the “right circumstances”.
“[The ban] does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for them to return in the right circumstances and that would be considered at the time,” he said in an interview with the Australian radio station 2GB on Monday.
Australian law does provide for compelling or compassionate reasons for the three-year visa ban to be waived.
This would potentially allow Djokovic to take part in the Australian Open tournament next year.
This year’s tournament, which has been overshadowed by the unvaccinated player’s visa troubles, began in Melbourne on Monday.
Djokovic had been scheduled to play later in the day – but his dramatic deportation just hours earlier ended his hopes of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title at the event.
The Serbian player boarded an Emirates flight to Dubai from Melbourne late on Sunday, arriving just before dawn local time on Monday.
He was seen stepping off the flight wearing a mask and carrying two bags. He is expected in Belgrade later.
Djokovic was forced to leave Australia after judges upheld a decision by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to cancel his visa on public health grounds.
The decision marked the end of a tumultuous 10-day saga where the Serb fought to stay and defend his title.
He was originally granted a medical exemption to enter Australia by two different independent health panels – one commissioned by Tennis Australia, the other by the state government of Victoria – after testing positive for coronavirus in mid-December.
But the player’s attempt to enter the country without being vaccinated stoked public anger.
The Australian Border Force then detained him on 5 January for not meeting coronavirus requirements and his visa was revoked.
A judge overturned that decision last Monday, but the government stepped in several days later to revoke the visa yet again.
The legal battle reached its conclusion on Sunday when judges upheld the government’s decision, leaving Djokovic with no other option but to leave the country.