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Novak Djokovic Has Been Allowed Into Australia ... For Now

After a successful appeal of the denial of his visa, the tennis player was allowed into Melbourne with a medical exemption from a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. But the country's immigration minister could flip the situation on its head by overruling the decision.

First, Novak Djokovic announced he was granted an exemption from the Australian COVID-19 vaccine mandate to play in the Australian Open. Then, upon arrival in Melbourne, his visa was denied. Djokovic sat in a hotel for the weekend waiting for a chance to appeal the decision Monday. Now, his appeal has been approved and he is practicing at Rod Laver Arena preparing for the start of the tournament. But the saga isn't quite over yet. Australia's immigration minister can overturn the decision, which would require Djokovic to leave the country immediately and result in a three-year ban from Australia. News also broke that Djokovic missed the exemption application deadline by six days, and photos showed that he was out in public unmasked shortly after his positive test. Yeah, a lot is happening. Two members of Sports Illustrated's tennis team tried to make sense of everything that's happened since they last chatted Friday.

Note: This conversation was lightly edited for length and clarity.

Chris Almeida: Timestamping this again: It's late afternoon on Monday. We just had a nice weekend away from the story, well not really. But since we last chatted on Friday, a number of new revelations have come out: One being that Novak Djokovic had COVID-19 for the second time last month. And that was apparently the grounds for his exemption.

Jon Wertheim: Also the big news is that the visa cancellation was overruled and that Djokovic, as we speak, is in Melbourne practicing. But we also have some revelations that show that this is even uglier than we thought.

So we have a Dec. 10 deadline for applying for an exemption. Djokovic missed that by six days. And then the allegedly positive test that Djokovic got on the 16th comes with a QR code that anybody can check. Some people have run the QR code and it says "positive" and sometimes people check it and it says "negative." I credit the transparency, but anyone can run that QR code and see that you get two different results. And there’s the thing that isn’t disputed, which is that the day after this alleged positive test, Djokovic is out unmasked and in public.

So we are left with this strange situation where, in some ways, things have gotten better for Djokovic; a lot of people predicted he would be on a plane back to Serbia by now, and that is not the case. At this moment in time, we are awaiting the Australian immigration minister’s decision whether to overrule or not. But as of now, the Djokovic family is calling this a victory. If nothing else, Djokovic’s stay in Melbourne has been extended. The flip side of that is that we have this really, really damning evidence that he missed the deadline and that Tennis Australia was aware he missed the deadline. And now he’s coming into Australia because of this COVID carve-out, which seems a little strange given that if every stranded Australian national knew all you had to do to get back into the country was get COVID, they might want to do that intentionally. And then the fact that Djokovic was unmasked in public after testing positive, clearly flouting COVID protocol … he may get to play the Australian Open, but I do not think he’s won much public support.

CA: The last part there, it's kind of twice as damning. Because last year, he held his superspreader event. And after that, he said, I'm sorry, I didn't realize what that was going to do. I didn't mean it. I won't do it again. And then, clearly, he didn’t have too many qualms about doing something in the same vein of behavior. Now any goodwill he probably would have gotten after he apologized for the first incident is probably gone now. What do you think?

JW: I mean, I think I think if nothing else, we’ve gotten real insight into his mindset. You can't be wired like you and I are to stare down match points at Wimbledon against Roger Federer and have no doubt in the world that you're winning that match. That same sort of magical thinking can have some really ugly consequences.

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Universally, not just on tennis Twitter, but from the world outside tennis, he was roundly mocked and criticized for the superspreader event in the spring of 2020. And now 18 months later, he’s still not only unvaccinated but playing fast and loose with protocols. It's really objectively grotesque, but it also does give you some insight into how this guy is wired.

CA: Yeah, so you mentioned that the Australian immigration minister can still overrule the decision that's been made here. And that would obviously stop Djokovic from playing in the Australian Open. That would also open up the possibility we discussed on Friday that he gets a three-year ban from the country. What do you think is the likelihood that that happens? It seems to me that that's not really likely.

JW: Well, if you're Djokovic, you could say: You know what, this was a big misunderstanding. And I'm thankful for the support and thankful to the court. I'm going to go home, voluntarily. See you next year. That would take the possible three-year ban off the table, and he might fly back to some goodwill. I think certainly the Australian Open, at this point, would not mind if that’s what he did.

But again, this is not someone who's risk-reward assessor is conventional. First of all, it's an interesting theory, because if the immigration minister lays down the hammer and overrules, it may also be determined that Djokovic isn't allowed back for three years, which would put him at 37 years old. I mean, even if he was allowed back after that amount of time, he probably wouldn't come to Australia again. So it's an interesting sort of game-theory question right now. He either stays and plays or ... I think if history is any guide, he hasn't even considered any sort of capitulation. He thinks he's gonna win this tournament for a 10th time, and that's what makes him who he is. But if this immigration minister exercises his right to overrule, we might not see Djokovic at this tournament until 2026.

CA: So, when will we know about the immigration minister’s decision?

JW: Well, that’s an interesting point to this. Tennis Australia had initially said they need to know by Tuesday. But my suspicion is, at this point, the federal government is pretty tired of doing things by the Australian Open’s timetable, which they've already proved is fungible, by allowing this Dec. 16 exemption when the deadline was Dec. 10. So, in theory, in the next 24 hours, we will get an answer. Anyway, if Djokovic plays I would like to see the ratings for his first match.

CA: I mean, I might stay up through to watch that.

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