Novak Djokovic’s hopes of an Australian Open title defence were looking more than bleak as he prepared for a hit with his lawyers rather than practice court opponents less than 48 hours before the start of the tournament.
The world’s No.1 player, who will be detained by immigration officials in Melbourne on Saturday, is making one last stand to get a government decision to cancel his visa overturned for a second time.
Yet even if he was to win his battle – increasingly seen as a real long shot after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancelled the Serb’s visa on Friday – his preparations will surely have been completely scuppered.
For the Australian Open announced on Friday that the top half of the men’s draw would be playing on Monday’s opening day, which would leave Djokovic no chance of proper preparation to face a first round match with Serbian compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic.
Spared detention on Friday, he is likely to be back at the same immigration detention hotel in Melbourne on Saturday night that he stayed in on his arrival in Australia 10 days earlier.
Then, even if he was able to successfully appeal the case on Sunday, what sort of shape, physically and mentally, would he be in to play the following day after his extraordinary travails of the previous week-and-a-half?
Back home in Serbia, there was fresh indignation at the news of the national hero’s latest detention as Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused the Australian government of “harassing” and “maltreating” Djokovic, suggesting it was indulging in political points scoring ahead of the elections.
Djokovic’s former coach and mentor, Niki Pilic, described the situation as “shameful” and said Djokovic was being treated like a “criminal.”
Meanwhile, a health ministry official there said the document recording Djokovic’s positive test for COVID-19 in December was valid.
Yet back in Australia, it seemed to be increasingly unlikely that Djokovic would get his chance to win a 10th Australian Open title and a record 21st grand slam in all as weariness over the entire saga just kept growing.
Even those who weren’t necessarily against Djokovic seemed to think it might be time for him to step aside for the sake of the sport, as much as himself.
Seven-time grand slam champion Justine Henin said: “I think it’s the best thing he doesn’t play at the moment.
“When something is so complicated, I don’t say that Djokovic doesn’t have to fight, because he thought it was the right thing to do, but I think now it’s been proved that so many Australian people don’t want him to play.
“So maybe it’s better for everyone – for tennis, for the tournament, and maybe for him – that he doesn’t play.”
Leading Australian coach Darren Cahill posted on social media: “Fault lies everywhere here. It’s been a mess. Novak, TA, Vic Gov, Federal Gov.”
No. Not at all. Fault lies everywhere here. It's been a mess. Novak, TA, Vic Gov, Federal Gov. It should've been a hard rule entering this country considering what the folks have been thru. Get vaccinated and come play the AO, or if not maybe see you in 23'. No wiggle room https://t.co/CzabtLGnMW
— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) January 14, 2022