You can take a small measure of satisfaction about the proudly anti-vax tennis star getting Australia’s boot in his rear end once again while recognizing that there’s something fundamentally wrong about a government using Novak Djokovic as a political pawn. 

You can acknowledge a country’s right to enforce its borders and vaccine mandates, even make policy on the fly in response to public sentiment, while admitting there’s more than a whiff of unfairness and capriciousness in the way it has handled the past week as the start of the Australian Open looms on Monday.

It is possible to accept that Djokovic presents virtually no threat to Australia’s public, but you must conclude that this whole mess boils down ultimately to one thing. A stubborn and ill-informed individual refusing to do the same as 97 percent his pro tour peers, or nearly everyone in the town where he intends to play tennis next Wednesday, in getting immunized against COVID-19.

And so this fight seemingly has one more round left in it, with Djokovic’s visa being canceled for a second time on Friday by Australia’s immigration minister. Djokovic is already challenging the decision in court. He will meet with U.S. immigration officials Saturday afternoon in Melbourne.

Perhaps the world’s No. The world’s No. 1 tennis player may win on court, and he will still have a chance to capture a 21st Grand Slam record. He appears to have lost a set in the fifth set, and is being served by the government.

Technically, Djokovic’s visa is being canceled on the grounds of “health and good order,” according to Alex Hawke, the person in Australia who has governmental powers to make such a decision.

But let’s call it what it is: They don’t want him there, which was actually the easiest thing to predict in this entire story. Apparently neither Djokovic nor Tennis Australia saw it coming as they played a game of loophole limbo to get him into a country that has very little tolerance these days for either anti-vaxxers or people who don’t follow the rules. 

REVOKED AGAIN Djokovic faces deportation again after Australian government

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Not only did Djokovic check both boxes, he did so gleefully when he posted a picture on Jan. 4  announcing he had been granted “an exemption permission” to play the Australian Open after months of speculation about whether he would play the tournament he has won a record nine times. 

It is possible to imagine a situation where Djokovic didn’t post that photo, had no political controversy brewing, was traveling at 35,000ft per continent, and then slipped into the country, continuing to dodge questions regarding his vaccination status. It’s possible none of this would’ve happened. 

Djokovic’s feeling of being compelled by the exemption to inform the world was similar to his sobbing in the U.S. Open final last Sept when Daniil Mevedev was about stopping him from achieving the calendar year Grand Slam. Djokovic will reveal who he really is no matter what.

It does not mean that Djokovic has malicious intentions, as is commonly the case. It is more difficult for many people to accept the reality. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in tennis who would deny his personal kindness and generosity, his immense charitable efforts, the way he will give lower-ranked players his time and fights for better conditions for them from the ATP Tour. The media questions he answers are thoughtfully and thoroughly answered. To put aside all of his on-court rants (which probably occur too often), he’s probably the most generous loser on this tour. 

It’s important to say all that because this situation, too, is probably more complex than most of us really want to acknowledge. 

For those of us in the U.S. that have grown weary of Kyrie Irving and Aaron Rodgers masquerading as freedom fighters because they refuse to get vaccinated, it’s incorrect to lump Djokovic into the same category.

Djokovic is famous for being persuaded to change to gluten-free eating habits by a Serbian nutritionist in 2010. The doctor told Djokovic to press a piece bread against his stomach. It caused weakness in his arm. The test is not scientifically supported. Djokovic became one of the greatest players ever by changing his diet. It was a moment that changed his entire belief system.  

This problem lasted into 2017, and 2018, when Djokovic was going through a long slump. It is largely due to an elbow injury that almost every other athlete would take care of as soon as possible. Because he was skeptical about modern medicine, Djokovic avoided surgery until the only option left. 

He was finally able to recover and was back at the top of the rankings in 2018. In an interview with the London Telegraph, he said that he felt guilt about the things he’d done. 

“I was trying to avoid getting on that table because I am not a fan of surgeries or medications,” he said. “I am just trying to be as natural as possible, and I believe that our bodies are self-healing mechanisms.”

This context is very useful to see how we came here. It does not give Djokovic a pass for the way he’s handled any of this, but it does explain why he’s gone to such great lengths to avoid the easy answer to his problems. This isn’t an act or a contrivance. He’s a true believer, even if it’s wrong and unhelpful to anyone in the middle of a pandemic. 

And it has put him into a humiliating situation where an increasingly unpopular government in Australia is really on the verge of deporting one of the great champions we’ve ever seen to score political points under the guise of “rules are rules.” They are not heroes in this situation. 

But neither is Djokovic, whose entire story seems so obviously bogus that he’s practically made the case for deportation himself. 

Djokovic can be taken at his word that Djokovic was allowed to enter the country without the need for a vaccine because of the timing of his positive COVID-19 testing on Dec. 16. He attended numerous public events in the area without using a mask over the next few days. Djokovic said in a written statement he didn’t know he was positive at any of those events except for a Dec. 18 interview with L’Equipe, which he said he didn’t cancel because he didn’t want to disappoint a journalist. The situation is also being scrutinized on other aspects such as his travel to Spain around Christmas to practise and the fact that he lied about it in forms sent to Australia. 

If Djokovic surrounded himself with people who are less sycophantic and more honest about how he’s viewed around the world, they’d have told him not to go in the first place. It was clear that an athlete of high stature entering the country without being vaccinated, despite Tennis Australia’s exemption and Victoria’s state exempting him from vaccines was a conjuring that was not accepted by the border. 

This has turned into an absurdist theater. Djokovic is the one who has managed to do this for the most part. 

Djokovic’s first-round match with Miomir Kcetmanovic on Monday has to be resolved. Whether he’s on the court or on a plane home by then, everyone with a hand in this disaster has already lost. 



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