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Novak Djokovic's version of events may be the toughest conspiracy theory to believe

The positive Covid test result recorded by Djokovic on December 16th fell at the perfect moment to allow him to complete two weeks of isolation.
Novak Djokovic Photo: Reuters

Novak Djokovic Photo: Reuters

Kevin Palmer

When you look at the facts as they have been presented to us in the most extraordinary of sporting dramas, Novak Djokovic is asking the world to join him in a plot line that is increasingly hard to believe.

After it was confirmed on Friday that the Australian Federal government had cancelled his visa for a second time, the story behind Djokovic's efforts to get into the country demands a closer inspection.

As the world number one played his final match for Serbia at the Davis Cup in Madrid on December 3rd, he was still batting away questions from reporters eager to discover whether he was intending to play at the Australian Open despite a strong suspicion that he was unvaccinated against Covid-19.

"I know what you want," said an agitated Djokovic when pressed by reporters over whether he would defend his Australian Open title the following month.

"I’m not going to give you an answer tonight. I know what you want to ask me, but you will be informed. That’s all I can tell you. I cannot give you any date. Obviously, Australia is around the corner, so you will know very soon."

What we didn't know at the time was Djokovic would need a succession of events to fall into place for him to have any hope of entering Australia, where only fully vaccinated visitors are currently allowed through border control.

At that point, Djokovic was hoping to play for Serbia in the ATP Cup in the first week of January, before moving on to defend his Australian Open title and push for a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam.

Winning a tenth title in Melbourne would edge him ahead of his great rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the race to finish his career with the more major titles than any other man in tennis history, yet there was only one viable route for him to get to Australia after he struck his final ball at the Davis Cup.

As most of the world suspected, vaccine sceptic Djokovic had not followed the path of a vast majority of his tennis rivals by following the guidelines set out by the Australian government that required compulsory vaccines to play in Melbourne.

Even though Tennis Australia had been told repeatedly by the Australian government that previous Covid infection would not be an acceptable reason to avoid the mandatory vaccine requirement for all player in the event, Djokovic was given alternative advice from tennis officials in Melbourne and it opened his door to participate.

The positive Covid test result recorded by Djokovic on December 16th fell at the perfect moment to allow him to complete two weeks of isolation and then submit his application for a medical exemption to enter Australia.

A delay in the process meant Djokovic was forced to pull out of the ATP Cup event, but he flew to Australia last week convinced he had ticked enough boxes to get into the country without any further questions.

What followed became an international incident well beyond sport, as Djokovic was detained in a quarantine hotel, sparking huge protests in his native Serbia as he became a poster boy for the anti-vax movement around the globe before he won an appeal to overturn his visa cancelation at a Melbourne court last Monday.

That courtroom success may well prove to be the most hollow win of Djokovic's decorated career, as social media accounts have undermined the timeline that was presented in a bid to get Djokovic inter Australia.

He presented documents to confirm he tested positive for Covid on December 16th, but social media accounts confirm he attended an event to present awards to children the next day and then took part in an interview and photoshoot with French publication L'Equipe a day later.

In a statement on Instagram released in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Djokovic has now confirmed he "felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L'Equipe interview as I didn't want to let the journalist down" despite knowing he was Covid positive.

He also admitted his immigration form had been incorrectly filled out by a member of his team, as they neglected to include the fact he had travelled from his home in Serbia to Spain in the days before, with social media accounts confirming Djokovic was at the SotoTennis Academy in Cadiz in the first week of January.

The secrecy around his trip to Spain seemed curious at the time, but it may now be explained as Djokovic needed to fit the timeline around his positive Covid test in order to get into Australia without too many questions being asked.

What happened next has become a story as big as any tennis has ever witnessed, with one of its iconic stars now admitting he attended a lengthy indoor event with a large group of people while knowing he had Covid-19.

Now Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has taken the inevitable step of cancelling Djokovic's visa for a second time and this is a moment for the player at the centre of this storm to get back on a plane and leave Australia, probably never to return.

This is a nightmare of Djokovic's own making and while he may now be hailed as the king of the anti-vaxxers, that is not the title he wanted to be leaving Australia with.

What cannot be denied is the Djokovic version of events may not get through a commissioning panel if it was submitted as a script for a TV show on the grounds that it was too hard to believe.

A woman holds up a picture ofNovak Djokovic, reading ‘Victory!’ (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

A woman holds up a picture ofNovak Djokovic, reading ‘Victory!’ (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

The pandemic has been a breeding ground for so many conspiracy theorists to weave a tangled web of mistruths and Djokovic now wants us all to believe he was going to miss the Australian Open unless he caught Covid in the two weeks between December 3rd and 16th - and many will argue that this may be the biggest conspiracy theory of them all.

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