Inside Novak Djokovic’s eight hour interrogation where he was made to sleep on an airport couch

Novak Djokovic’s signed affidavit has offered a detailed account of his arduous ordeal during a relentless interrogation by border officials, which left the tennis star ‘upset and confused’.

The star was finally released from detention on Monday night after a judge ruled he should be immediately set free, which saw the tennis champion hit the court within hours to get in some practice before the Open begins on Monday. 

It marked the end of a rollercoaster five days, which began when the world No.1 was made to sleep on a couch in between questioning after touching down in Melbourne about 11.30pm on Wednesday.

He’d already spent 25 hours in transit and was astounded to learn his medical exemption was not considered satisfactory, saying he genuinely believed he had done all that was required to enter Australia.

Djokovic told the court he ‘did not understand what was happening’ or why they would consider cancelling his visa and repeatedly pleaded with officials to allow him time to consult his legal team when they woke up.

His signed affidavit explained he was first alerted that something was amiss as soon as the plane touched down in Australia. Both Djokovic and his team were ordered off the plane and immediately questioned.

An affidavit from world No.1 tennis player Novak Djokovic reveals he was stressed, confused and tired when he was questioned by Border Force officers when he arrived in the Australia (pictured: Djokovic holding the Australian Open trophy in 2021) 

A large crowd of supporters waving the Serbian flag celebrated in Melbourne on Monday afternoon (pictured) as the Federal Court overturned the 34-year-old's visa cancellation

A large crowd of supporters waving the Serbian flag celebrated in Melbourne on Monday afternoon (pictured) as the Federal Court overturned the 34-year-old’s visa cancellation

Djokovic told the court his passport was seized at this time and never returned. Judge Anthony Kelly ordered it be returned to him no later than 5.46pm Monday following his monumental court win.

By 12.20am, Border Force officials were ready to commence a formal interview with the Serbian star, demanding all documentation relating to the medical exemption.

Djokovic handed over the same documents he’d already provided, including his medical exemption letter from Tennis Australia and correspondence with the Department of Home Affairs indicating he’d met requirements to travel.

‘I was asked whether I had been previously infected by Covid. I told him that I had been infected twice… the most recent occasion being December 2021.’

Djokovic said in his affidavit he was happy to oblige because he recognised that the issue was his vaccination status, and wanted to reassure the officials he’d taken all the precautions to ensure he was fit to travel.

Novak Djokovic tweeted this picture late on Monday night, thanking fans for sticking by him as well as the judge who ordered his release

Novak Djokovic tweeted this picture late on Monday night, thanking fans for sticking by him as well as the judge who ordered his release 

Novak Djokovic's lawyer Paul Holdneson QC is seen in the carpark of his office building in Melbourne on Monday (pictured)

Novak Djokovic’s lawyer Paul Holdneson QC is seen in the carpark of his office building in Melbourne on Monday (pictured) 

A central part of the reason Djokovic was allowed to stay was that Border Force officers did not give him enough opportunity to consult with his legal team (pictured:  Novak Djokovic's lawyer Paul Holdneson on left)

A central part of the reason Djokovic was allowed to stay was that Border Force officers did not give him enough opportunity to consult with his legal team (pictured:  Novak Djokovic’s lawyer Paul Holdneson on left) 

‘That is why I wanted him to see the COVID-PCR test results, but I recall he did not appear to be very interested in these documents,’ Djokovic recalled. 

During the interview, the official left the room on up to eight occasions to seek advice from his superior.

On one such occasion, the 34-year-old tennis star was reprimanded for using his mobile phone while he was alone in the room. He was told to switch off the phone and put it away, and did so.

After a 90 minute interrogation, it was determined there was ‘nothing else Djokovic could provide’ and he was permitted to ‘go into the corridor to rest on the sofa’. 

Novak Djokovic is seen exiting the Park Hotel in a white van on Monday morning, where the athlete was held during his legal challenge over his visa

Novak Djokovic is seen exiting the Park Hotel in a white van on Monday morning, where the athlete was held during his legal challenge over his visa

Fans are seen celebrating outside Djokovic's lawyers' office on Monday evening after the landmark decision

Fans are seen celebrating outside Djokovic’s lawyers’ office on Monday evening after the landmark decision

EXCERPT OF NOVAK DJOKOVIC VISA INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Interview #1 begun at 12.21am on January 6:

INTERVIEWER: Thank you. So when I ask you what were your reasons for travelling to Australia today?

DJOKOVIC: I’m a professional tennis player and the main reason for me coming to Australia is participating in the Australian Open in Melbourne, Victoria.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Now question regarding your vaccination, are you vaccinated for COVID-19? Not vaccinated?

DJOKOVIC: I am not vaccinated.

INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Have you ever had COVID?

DJOKOVIC: Yes. I had COVID twice, I had COVID in June 2020 and I had COVID recently in – I was tested positive – PCR –16th of December 2021.

DJOKOVIC: I have the documents as well to confirm that if you want I can provide

INTERVIEWER: Thank you. I’ll just make a photocopy of those documents.

He was woken about 4am with a document notifying him of the intention to ‘consider cancellation of [his] visa’. 

Djokovic immediately attempted to reason with the officers, telling them that he’d received advice from the Independent State Government medical panel which explicitly stated his recent Covid infection was grounds for exemption. 

‘He told me he was giving me 20 or so minutes to respond, give comments or give any other information that may affect their decision whether to cancel my visa.’

This decision would eventually be the critical reason Djokovic was successful in his appeal on Monday.  

Djokovic (pictured) is now cleared to play in the Australian Open which starts on January 17

Djokovic (pictured) is now cleared to play in the Australian Open which starts on January 17

Ecstatic Serbian fans caused quite the scene in Melbourne on Monday night (pictured) after their hero was set free

Ecstatic Serbian fans caused quite the scene in Melbourne on Monday night (pictured) after their hero was set free

Djokovic claims he pleaded with officials to grant him a reasonable amount of time to consult with his legal team in the morning, and says one officer said he could have until 8.30am.

He again returned to the sofa – assured a bed was being ‘made up for him’ – but was woken again, this time by a superior officer.   

Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood claims his client was led to believe it was in his best interests to continue on with the interview process despite having not yet consulted with his team.  

‘That was patently spurious and mischievous,’ he told the court.

‘It plainly was not, and would never have been, better for Mr Djokovic if a visa cancellation decision were made while he was unrested and without consulting with his representatives.’  

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT NOVAK DJOKOVIC’S CASE 

Will Novak Djokovic play at the Australian Open? Nobody will know until the Minister for Immigration Alex Hawke declares his hand – either to allow Djokovic to stay in Australia or to re-cancel his visa.

If he does not decide to cancel his visa, Djokovic will be free to stay in Australia and defend his title. 

What happened in court? Judge Anthony Kelly quashed the decision to tear up Djokovic’s visa and ordered him to be freed and his belongings to be returned.

Will he still be deported? Again, this comes down to immigration minister Alex Hawke. The Djokovic case has been a debacle for the government and divided Australians over the best course of action.

Members of Victoria Police stand guard in front of the garage of the Park Hotel on Monday (pictured)

Members of Victoria Police stand guard in front of the garage of the Park Hotel on Monday (pictured) 

Federal Court Judge Anthony Kelly ordered the 34-year-old tennis world No.1 to be freed from immigration detention where he had been since Thursday

Federal Court Judge Anthony Kelly ordered the 34-year-old tennis world No.1 to be freed from immigration detention where he had been since Thursday 

After seven hours of stop-start court proceedings on Monday, lawyers for the government admitted Djokovic was not given appropriate time to respond.  

Federal Court Judge Anthony Kelly ordered the tennis world No.1 to be freed from detention at Melbourne’s Park Hotel by no later than 5.46pm on Monday, having already gone to his lawyer’s office to view the hearing.  

The Federal Government agreed to revoke the decision to cancel his visa, meaning Judge Kelly did not even have to rule that the cancellation was unjustified.

At the heart of the case was a procedural error made by the Australian Border Force when officers first stopped Djokovic at the city’s airport last Wednesday evening.  

Novak Djokovic's lawyer Nick Wood SC exits from the carpark of an office building in Melbourne on Monday (pictured)

Novak Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood SC exits from the carpark of an office building in Melbourne on Monday (pictured) 

The tennis ace's lawyers said Djokovic posed a minuscule risk to the health of Australian citizens given his reduced risk of Covid reinfection so soon after recovering from the virus (pictured with his wife Jelena in Italy in 2017)

The tennis ace’s lawyers said Djokovic posed a minuscule risk to the health of Australian citizens given his reduced risk of Covid reinfection so soon after recovering from the virus (pictured with his wife Jelena in Italy in 2017) 

‘We all play by the same rules… those rules were not observed,’ Judge Kelly said. The message is not all that dissimilar to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s statement hours after Djokovic was initially given his marching orders. 

‘Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules,’ Mr Morrison said at the time.  

Djokovic explicitly stated in his affidavit he was ‘mentally and physically tired’ and ‘needed rest’, but ‘felt persuaded’ by the officers he dealt with.

He also insists he was never once spoken to about being a risk to the health and safety of the community.

An ATAGI document, which the Federal Government uses to determine if someone is eligible for an exemption, states a previous infection can be used as a reason not to be vaccinated yet

An ATAGI document, which the Federal Government uses to determine if someone is eligible for an exemption, states a previous infection can be used as a reason not to be vaccinated yet

Supporters were pepper-sprayed by police on Monday evening after surrounding a car they believed was holding the tennis ace (pictured)

Supporters were pepper-sprayed by police on Monday evening after surrounding a car they believed was holding the tennis ace (pictured)

Mr Wood contests that if he were notified of the intention to cancel the visa and given appropriate time to respond, he would have made several submissions which could have prevented the decision.

His lawyers would have argued several key points; including the minuscule or non-existent risk to health he posed if permitted to enter Australia given his reduced risk of reinfection so soon after recovering from the virus and the fact that daily Covid cases in NSW and Victoria were already in the tens of thousands.

They also indicated they would have relied on his ‘long and unproblematic history of visiting Victoria to compete in previous Australian Open’ and the ‘damage such a decision would have on his reputation’.  

Djokovic supporters had high hopes for the case after Judge Kelly said he was ‘agitated’ learning all the steps the world No.1 took to assure he’d be welcome in Australia and free to play his favourite Grand Slam. 

Supporters wore Serbian colours and held flag's of Djokovic's country outside the Federal Court building in Melbourne (pictured)

Supporters wore Serbian colours and held flag’s of Djokovic’s country outside the Federal Court building in Melbourne (pictured) 

‘A professor and qualified physician provided the applicant a medical exemption, the basis of which was given by an independent expert panel established by the state government… that document was in the hands of the delegate,’ Judge Kelly said.

‘The point I’m somewhat agitated about is, what more could this man have done?’ 

While Djokovic is now free to begin training again and remain in Australia, the debacle has prompted fierce backlash online, with many saying the incompetence of the Australian government has been thrust into the spotlight. 

But the saga could be far from over, with the Minister for Immigration refusing to rule out using his powers to cancel the tennis star’s visa yet again.

Despite there being a four-hour window after Monday’s ruling to make the controversial move, after a judge ordered Djokovic was immediately released, it has since emerged that the minister could opt to use a different set of powers on Tuesday.

A large crowd of supporters waving the Serbian flag celebrated in Melbourne on Monday afternoon (pictured) as the Federal Court overturned the 34-year-old's visa cancellation

A large crowd of supporters waving the Serbian flag celebrated in Melbourne on Monday afternoon (pictured) as the Federal Court overturned the 34-year-old’s visa cancellation

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