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Novak Djokovic Scrambles To Clear Up COVID Timeline, Appears To Have Lied In Australian Court

Novak Djokovic sits down while practicing on the grounds of the Australian Open.
Kelly Defina/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Novak Djokovic's quest to justify his vaccination exemption, keep his visa, and play in next week's Australian Open is raging on so many distinct and surreal fronts that it's difficult to keep track of it all. One measure of the absurdity: It took aerial footage to confirm that he's back on the tennis court.

On Sunday, a judge ruled on a technicality that Djokovic could leave immigration detention and have his visa restored; on Monday, a car believed to be carrying the tennis player from a hotel was mobbed by fans, who were then pepper-sprayed by police; on Tuesday, aerial cameras captured him practicing on official grounds. The nine-time champ could still be detained and deported before the Open, however. According to The Age, Australia's Department of Home Affairs is still investigating his "breach of isolation requirements in Serbia, the incorrect statements on his travel entry form and inconsistencies on the date of his COVID-19 test." And Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could still cancel Djokovic's visa on the grounds that prior infection within six months does not warrant a vaccine exemption, or on "character grounds."

Djokovic's camp continues to make his case through legal channels and emotional Instagram posts. Because his exemption hinges on prior infection, Djokovic's testing, activity, and travel leading up the Open has come under heavy scrutiny, and that's exposed other strange discrepancies. On Wednesday, he complained about "misinformation" and attempted to lay out a passable timeline of events:

December 14: Djokovic attends a basketball game in Belgrade, after which a number of other attendees test positive

December 16: Djokovic is asymptomatic but takes a rapid antigen test (negative), then takes a PCR test

December 17: Djokovic is still asymptomatic but takes another rapid antigen test (negative), attends a children's tennis event in Belgrade, then gets the results of his PCR test (positive)

December 18: Djokovic hosts a French journalist at his tennis center in Belgrade because "he didn't want to let the journalist down," keeps his mask on except for the photoshoot, goes into isolation afterward, and regrets this "error of judgement"

One discrepancy could run Djokovic afoul of both Serbian and Australian governments. On the third page of a sworn court affidavit filed earlier this week, Djokovic said he was both "tested and diagnosed" on Dec. 16, contradicting his Instagram version of events, where his positive PCR result was returned on Dec. 17, after he'd already attended a children's event. That could mean that he lied in Australian court. Separately, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told the BBC that if Djokovic did know his positive result on Dec. 16, it would constitute a "clear breach" of Serbian rules, which require an isolation either for 14 days or until a negative PCR test is returned.

There's also the question of travel. Djokovic was spotted training in Spain on Dec. 31, but the Australia Travel Declaration he'd submitted indicated that he had not travelled in the 14 days prior to his Jan. 5 arrival in Australia. He fessed up to this in his Instagram post, saying that the form was "submitted by my support team on my behalf," and that "my agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box about my previous travel before coming to Australia." Even in the most generous possible assessment of Djokovic's behavior—one that dings Australia for their own gross mishandling of the situation, and one that overlooks his possible breaches of isolation and wanton travel—his bookkeeping has been atrocious.

More ambiguously, a Der Spiegel investigation laid out some technical suspicions about the timestamps and QR codes on Djokovic's Serbian COVID tests, and I'm still waiting for more clarity there. The wait can't be too long; the Open starts in five days.

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