Another day of drama Down Under saw Novak Djokovic practise on his favourite court with the silence broken by the whir of an overhead news helicopter and the clicks of dozens of cameras. The unvaccinated Serb was not on the run during his hit with Argentine Federico Coria. But few sports stars have attracted this much attention or notoriety since OJ Simpson was chased down a California freeway by the LAPD – and a fleet of media helicopters – in his white Bronco.
He is certainly public enemy No.1 in the Australian media. Two Channel Seven TV presenters were captured calling the Serb a “lying a***hole” in leaked footage of a hilarious off-air chat. And that is polite by Aussie standards.
Immigration minister Alex Hawke was last night still to make the serious decision over deporting the world No.1 for a second time. After losing a first court case, the Australian government is looking for a more solid legal case than just finding the Serb morally objectionable.
But the first Grand Slam of the season has already descended into a farce with the delayed draw made yesterday despite no confirmation that Djokovic will be allowed to defend his title.
The nine-time champion is scheduled to play fellow Serbian and world No.78 Miomir Kecmanovic in his opening match unless he is on a plane home or back in his detention hotel next week.
And yesterday’s training session could yet be his final appearance at the Australian Open.
Media were escorted into the Rod Laver Arena for 15 minutes to watch Djokovic, in a green Lacoste shirt and white baseball cap, hitting with the world No.64 in the heat of the lunchtime sun. He joked with his team – coach Goran Ivanisevic, physio Ulises Badio and fitness trainer Marco Panichi – as he sought to find the rhythm lost during five days locked up last week.
It all had a surreal atmosphere after so many rowdy nights with the Serbian and his fans in Melbourne Park.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion has been crowned the king of the Australian Open nine times on the same Rod Laver Arena – the Centre Court at Melbourne Park. But this gentle training session seemed more like the last wish of a condemned man as he waited to learn his fate.
Yet yesterday he received another stay of execution. The draw ceremony was delayed by 75 messy minutes for a prime ministerial press conference but Scott Morrison gave no update on the Serb’s visa limbo.
When asked if it was safe to allow an unvaccinated non-citizen into Australia, Morrison stood by the nation’s strict border rules.
“To enter quarantine-free, the individual has to show they are double vaccinated or must provide acceptable proof that they can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons,” Morrison said.
“That’s the policy, which hasn’t changed.
“That is the policy and we would expect authorities to be implementing the policy of the government when it comes to those matters.”
If Djokovic is banned from playing before the first order of play is announced, he will be replaced at the top of the draw by No.5 seed Andrey Rublev and the seeds will be reshuffled. Any later, he will be substituted by a lucky loser. Appropriately in a case involving an anti-vaxxer, conspiracy theories are freely available.
One is that the government is running down the clock on any decision until the weekend when any appeal could be delayed until Monday – and the start of the tournament.
The Age was last night reporting that the Serbian’s legal team will appeal if Hawke attempts to deport him for a second time.