Accusations and awkward press conferences – what happened as the Novak Djokovic saga escalated again
On a dramatic day for tennis, Novak Djokovic won his appeal to have his Australian visa revoked but the saga is not over with accusations hanging over the world No.
Novak Djokovic has had many dramatic days on the tennis court, but even for a man with 31 Grand Slam finals behind him, nothing could have matched the drama of what he did off the court on Monday.
The saga will or will he not be plagued with his proposed entry into this month’s Australian Open dragged on for months, somewhat monotonously, before exploding into a hybrid of frenzy and controversy last week.
The chaos began last Tuesday when the Serb ended speculation about his vaccination status by announcing that he had been granted a medical exemption to compete in Melbourne, apparently on the basis that he had tested positive for Covid-19 during of the last six months.
AFP via Getty Images)
However, on Wednesday that same exemption was rejected by Border Force officers at Melbourne Airport, who revoked his visa and ordered the 34-year-old deported to Europe.
That process was duly delayed when the world number 1’s lawyers appealed the decision, with the hearing scheduled for Monday morning. In the meantime, Djokovic stayed in a government detention hotel in Carlton, Victoria, an ordeal seemingly over when a judge ruled emphatically in his favour.
The saga is not over yet, however. Here’s what happened on a day that will notoriously go down in history – and why so many questions and accusations still hang over the world number 1’s head.
Appeal decision announced
The day before, British sports fans learned that Jimmy Anderson had survived an agonizing six balls to secure England a draw from the Ashes in Sydney.
Some 24 hours later, the breakfast bulletins reporting from below were no less intriguing, though the result lacked the same clarity.
At 06:16 GMT, Judge Anthony Kelly announced that he had overturned the visa cancellation and ordered the Australian government to pay court costs and release Djokovic from custody within half an hour.
A transcript of his conversation with Border Force agents, where the Serb admitted to not being vaccinated, revealed he had contracted Covid-19 twice – and as recently as December 16.
The star’s fans, who had long gathered outside the courthouse, then mobbed an outgoing car which they said was carrying Djokovic and for the all-time tennis great, it was all settled.
Where was it?
Arrest rumors go viral
As police turned to pepper spray in an effort to deter those invading the vehicle, rumors spread far and wide that Djokovic himself had been arrested.
These turned out to be unfounded, although his brother, Djordje, told Serbian outlet Sportklub: “What we can do is spread the word on all social media – they want to capture and lock up Novak again. “
What emerged as more specific information was that Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had a four-hour window after Djokovic’s release to order a second visa cancellation.
That time duly passed, but again, things weren’t as clear cut as they seemed.
One advantage of Hawke’s position is that he still has the power to revoke the visa at a later date and has tentatively promised to make a final appeal on Tuesday. Whatever the final meaning now.
The timing of the test result raises serious questions
The idea that Djokovic tested positive for Covid on December 16 is perfectly plausible. After all, he is not vaccinated and had attended a Euroleague basketball match between Red Star and Barcelona a few days before, an event that sparked an outbreak.
What is a bit trickier to understand is that on the same day as said test he attended an event commemorating his own personal stamp, and 24 hours later he attended the Belgrade Tennis Association for an award ceremony. At both rallies, he was unmasked and voluntarily shook hands with attendees.
He was also pictured on the streets of his capital on December 25, despite Serbian rules requiring 14 days of self-isolation.
The Djokovic family celebrates the “truth”
During his son’s impromptu stay at Carlton, Srdan Djokovic compared him to Spartacus and encouraged an uprising of the people. So when he, his wife Dijana, Djordje and Novak’s uncle Goran called a press conference in Belgrade, it was never going to be trivial.
The family were in a celebratory mood, with the honors of the most groundbreaking statement for Ms Djokovic, who said Djokovic had been subjected to ‘torture and harassment’, and promised more about what he had lived would be revealed.
AFP via Getty Images)
She also described her son as “the boy who learned not to put up with lies and cheating, and always fought for justice.”
Ironically, given the magnitude of this statement, the family abruptly ended the conference when asked why Djokovic had apparently flouted the rules on isolation.
I dare say, we will hear more from them.
Djokovic court support
His freedom may still be short-lived, but Djokovic wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to head to the Rod Laver Arena and pose on the training ground – sending the message that it’s business as usual from now on.
Pictured with his coaching staff, he said: “I want to stay and try to make the Australian Open, I’m still focused on that. I flew in to play one of the most important events we have in front of incredible fans.”
He also thanked fans for helping him “stay strong” and, in keeping with what has been a divisive story, responses to the post were very mixed.
If he were to be sent off by Hawke tomorrow, it’s not just this Australian Open that’s falling apart – as a three-year ban from the country will be tagged on his ticket home.
On the contrary, it could still be the Grand Slam that will mark him in history by winning an unprecedented 21st major title, ridding him of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Regardless of what news greets our cafe tomorrow, there is at least one notion in this escalating drama that cannot be disputed.
There has never been an Australian Open as absurdly shambolic as this one.