Over the course of the last week, Novak Djokovic has announced that he was granted an exemption from the Australian COVID-19 vaccine mandate to play in the Australian Open. Then, upon arrival his visa was denied. Now, Djokovic is sitting in limbo, waiting in an Australian hotel for his appeal to be heard. If it is denied, he could be facing a three-year ban from the country. Meanwhile, the situation has escalated to an international incident, with the Australian and Serbian heads of state both weighing in alongside celebrities and online pundits. So, two members of Sports Illustrated’s tennis team tried to make sense of everything that’s happened since they last chatted Wednesday.
Note: This conversation was lightly edited for length and clarity.
Jon Wertheim: I thought of one place to start: Just like when Maria Sharapova had her doping controversy, one of the judges in her case had this line that gets a lot of replay: ”You are the sole author of your own misfortune.” That does not seem to apply here. We are now learning that this is a lot more complicated than, as culpable as he may be, Novak Djokovic tried to find a side door.
Chris Almeida: How do you mean?
JW: It sounds like Tennis Australia was obviously incentivized to have as many players, especially top players, come. But also, this is a key: This is a tournament within tennis which has really branded itself the players’ event. They listen to the players, they coddle the players, then the players arrive and they get their flights paid for and they get a per diem, and they get a pair of free UGGs free to take home. I mean, it’s really, it’s very on brand that Tennis Australia, charitably, took some shortcuts in assisting players getting into the country who would otherwise not be eligible. But that is a very charitable way of phrasing what happened.
CA: Yeah. I guess the weird thing for me is how unsurprising that part of it is. This element, Tennis Australia botching this, is clearly the biggest news from this in the last 24 hours. But if you told me: This sporting group in the United States with the incentive to make money is pushing around government rules so that they can make more money. I’d be like: That’s the least surprising thing I’ve ever heard. Isn’t the surprising thing here that then the government went to them and said, “No, f— off”?
JW: Well, first of all: this isn’t a totally independent organization. This is the Australian Open that gets a lot of money and public funds and is very …….