Novak Djokovic and the endless hanging game

In the almost endless deportation thriller about Novak Djokovic, the top tennis star could have to leave the country just a few hours before the start of the Australian Open.

A federal court is due to make a final decision in the case of the unvaccinated Serb on Sunday after his visa to Australia was revoked for a second time. The opening game of the world number one at the Grand Slam tournament in Melbourne is actually planned for Monday. Whether the 34-year-old defending champion can compete after days of Corona posse is not clear even after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had his say on Friday.

Djokovic may not be deported until the court has ruled on his objection, but his preparation for the Australian Open is severely disrupted. Focused training? Not at all.

Djokovic should appear for the hearing at the immigration authorities on Saturday morning (local time). Until then, the Australian Open record champion was allowed to stay in his private accommodation. He is then allowed to discuss the strategy with his lawyers for several hours. Then he’s supposed to go back to the deportation hotel overnight, where he’s already spent a few nights.

Neverending Corona story

These are the next chapters in a never-ending Corona story about Djokovic. As expected, the lawyers of the 20-time Grand Slam tournament winner appealed against Hawke’s announcement on Friday. The immigration minister had been delaying his decision since Monday. It was not until Friday around 6 p.m. that he announced that he would exercise his personal right to annul Djokovic’s visa.

This was well justified and “in the public interest,” said the minister. Unvaccinated against the coronavirus, Djokovic is a controversial figure in the country that has imposed tough rules since the pandemic began. A participation of the world number one at the Australian Open was not yet ruled out, but is now unlikely. Only the weekend remains for the record winner to get the chance for the hoped-for tennis milestone. If he participates, Djokovic would have to play compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic on Monday.

Criticism from Djokovic’s lawyers

Judge Anthony Kelly, who was already dealing with the case, scheduled a meeting on Friday evening to discuss how to proceed. The fact that tens of thousands followed the YouTube broadcast also shows how immense the interest is worldwide. In the meantime, the live transmission stopped. “Every minute before the tournament starts on Monday is precious,” said Djokovic’s lawyer.

At the same time, the lawyer criticized that the decision was “irrational” and disproportionate. He also complained that Hawke had waited so long with his decision and had put Djokovic in a difficult situation.

The former German Davis Cup captain and former Djokovic trainer Niki Pilic also reacted with incomprehension. He was “not surprised,” said the 82-year-old, according to the Serbian news agency “Tanjug”.

The politicians “decided that they want to collect political points at Novak’s expense,” said Pilic, complaining that Djokovic had been treated “like a criminal” since his arrival. “Novak didn’t deserve it, they should be ashamed,” said Pilic. The Serbian tabloid media reported “lynch mood”.

Sporting issues are irrelevant

For ten days, the posse around Djokovic has been supplanting all sporting topics: How Olympic champion Alexander Zverev is in shape or whether the Hamburger can actually attack his first Grand Slam title in the next two weeks is completely in the background. The Corona story about Djokovic gives the Australian Open unprecedented attention before the start. But in a way that the busy tournament boss Craig Tiley could never have wished for.

Actually, only vaccinated players are allowed to compete at the Australian Open. Djokovic had applied for a medical exemption and said he tested positive in December. The Australian Tennis Association had given him special permission, and two expert panels had investigated his case.

However, when Djokovic arrived last week, the authorities had already refused entry and classified the documents presented for his medical exemption as insufficient. However, because he was not given enough time to react, Judge Kelly overturned the entry ban during a court hearing on Monday.

Prime Minister welcomes decision

Since then, Djokovic has been preparing for the Australian Open at the tennis facility on the Yarra River. With a tenth triumph, he would win his 21st Grand Slam title and become the sole record Grand Slam tournament winner. He currently shares this record with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who has been on a break for months. On Friday, the number one in the world rankings trained early in the day instead of in the afternoon as originally planned. What would develop after that, he could not yet know.

“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian, but we stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. Together we have achieved one of the lowest mortality rates, the strongest economy and the highest vaccination rates in the world,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, welcoming the Hawke decision: “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic and they have a right to expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected.”


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