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- Serbian tennis player
The Australian Open used to be termed ‘The Happy Slam’ - less than a week from its start, that could scarcely be further from the truth.
However the Novak Djokovic saga eventually plays out – and it feels far from finished – it continues to be an unedifying mess. And no one appears to be coming out of it looking good.
Take Djokovic for example. His treatment by the Australian authorities has clearly been harsh having flown there in the belief that he had the necessary medical exemption and supporting documents to enter the country.
That essentially rested on a positive test for Covid on December 16, the documentation of which was shown during Monday’s appeal hearing by his lawyers.
But why on earth was Djokovic then pictured maskless and smiling with a collection of children just a day later? For that, he clearly has serious questions to answer.
With Covid such a divisive issue, the Australian public has turned markedly on the Scott Morrison government, which on the surface looked to be playing Djokovic hardball as some sort of populist move. If anything, that coalition has merely been more ridiculed for its handling of a solitary tennis player just four months out from a federal election.
And Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley will have to at some point explain exactly why players were told that a prior Covid infection would guarantee their passage into Australia despite having previously been told that a medical exemption would not be warranted on those grounds.
It is a saga that looks set to run and run with the immigration minister Alex Hawke still mulling over whether to cancel Djokovic’s visa on Tuesday. And even beyond that, the debate could potentially run past the Australian Open packing up in three weeks’ time.
Andy Murray summed it up well when he said: “It’s really not good for tennis at all, and I don’t think it’s good for anyone involved. I think it’s really bad.”
The sport is hogging the headlines on papers front and back currently for all the wrong reasons.
In essence, a judge has decided that Australian immigration officials were wrong to have revoked his visa entry and ordered his immediate release.
Meanwhile, the Australian government clearly believes it was right in their bid to have him detained and sent back to Serbia.
The world No1’s treatment was described as “manifestly unjust” while the player’s lawyers submitted 11 grounds for appeal against his visa cancellation, which they described as “seriously illogical”, irrational and legally unreasonable.
And with talk of possible expulsion still looming, it only worsens. One wonders quite what Djokovic now thinks of his decision to board an Emirates flight via Dubai to Australia for the first grand slam of the season, a decision that has taken him to detention and into the midst of a growing political row straining relations between Australia and Serbia in the process.
Should he eventually get his wish to play in the Australian Open, what then?
It is clear there has been sympathy for Djokovic’s treatment since landing on Australian soil but there also comes his personal decision not to be vaccinated against Covid.
On court, he has never had the universal popularity of a Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, a facet that looked to be changing at the US Open where the New York crowd shifted in his favour when he finally looked fallible in his quest for that record 21st Grand Slam.
Djokovic cares about the court of public opinion and, while he will have his supporters in Melbourne and globally, in all likelihood the boos will ring out for his court appearances be that in Australia and elsewhere. However thick a skin he might have, that can’t help but seep in.
The Serbian spent hours in talks with his lawyers deep into the Melbourne evening about his next move.
As if this controversy hadn’t had enough twist and turns, it had its perhaps most bizarre yet when Nigel Farage somehow entered the debate too, today finding his way into Djokovic’s trophy cabinet with members of Djokovic’s family, including his brother Djordje.
When Farage enters your side of the debate, perhaps the time comes for you to finally consider your options of further pushing forward your case.
At this stage, the start of the Australian Open looks a painfully long way away. How tournament officials, tennis fans and Australia as a whole desperately need the tennis to start to dampen out the other noise. Monday cannot come soon enough to help rebuild the semblance of a happy Slam.