Novak Djokovic can stay in Australia but saga not over, judge says

2021 Australian Open: Day 9
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Novak Djokovic returned to the tennis court Monday for training, having won a legal battle to stay in Australia and play in the Australian Open after his exemption from strict coronavirus rules was questioned. But the government is still threatening to cancel his visa and deport him.

Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly reinstated the Djokovic’s visa, which was pulled after his arrival last week because officials said he didn’t qualify for an exemption to a rule that all non-citizens be fully vaccinated. Djokovic’s lawyers say that since he recently recovered from COVID-19, he didn’t need to be inoculated.

The judge ruled the No. 1 player had not been given enough time to speak to his lawyers before the decision was made and ordered the government to release him from a Melbourne quarantine hotel where he has spent the last four nights.

But government lawyer Christopher Tran told the judge that the immigration minister “will consider whether to exercise a personal power of cancellation.”

That would mean that the nine-time Australian Open winner and defending champion could again face deportation and could miss the tournament, which starts on Jan. 17. It could also bar him from the country for three years.

Late Monday night, Djokovic tweeted out a photo that showed him and his team standing on one of the main show courts of the tournament. He was already back to training, his brother told reporters in Serbia.

“I’m pleased and grateful that the Judge overturned my visa cancellation. Despite all that has happened, I want to stay and try to compete @AustralianOpen,” Djokovic said in the post.

The back and forth has gripped the world and caused a furor in Australia, where many initially decried the news that Djokovic, who has been a vocal skeptic of vaccines, had received an exemption to strict rules to compete in Melbourne. Many felt the star, who court documents say is not inoculated against COVID-19, was being given special treatment since Australians who aren’t vaccinated face tough travel and quarantine restrictions. Melbourne, in particular, has faced severe restrictions and is one of the world’s most locked down cities.

But when border police then blocked the 34-year-old on arrival, others cried foul, saying he was being scapegoated by an Australian government facing criticism for its recent handling of the pandemic.

The tennis star’s brother, Djordje Djokovic, told television network Prva in Belgrade, Serbia: “This is definitely politics, all this was politics.”

Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal called the controversy “a circus” and said he supported the decision allowing his rival to play in Melbourne.

“Beyond me agreeing or not with Djokovic on certain things, there’s no question that justice has spoken and has said that he has the right to take part in the Australian Open,” Nadal said Monday during an interview with Spain’s Onda Cero radio.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government is seeking re-election for a fourth term in polls due by May.

While his government was widely praised for containing the nation’s COVID-19 death toll at the start of the pandemic, he has recently loosened some rules, just as omicron cases have been rapidly surging. He has been criticized for that strategy as well as for shortages of rapid antigen tests and for refusing to make the tests available to all for free.

At Monday’s court hearing, Djokovic’s lawyers argued their client did not need proof of vaccination because he had evidence that he had been infected with the coronavirus last month.

Australian medical authorities have ruled that people who have been infected with COVID-19 within six months can receive a temporary exemption to the vaccination rule.

Judge Kelly noted that Djokovic had provided officials at Melbourne’s airport with a medical exemption given him by Tennis Australia and two medical panels.

“The point I’m somewhat agitated about is what more could this man have done?” Kelly asked Djokovic’s lawyer, Nick Wood.

Wood agreed that his client could not have done more, noting that transcripts of Djokovic’s interview with Border Force officials and his own affidavit revealed that he repeatedly told officers he had done everything he thought was required of him.

Djokovic’s lawyers described the cancellation as “seriously illogical.”

But lawyers for Home Affairs Minister Andrews said in their submission that the vaccination exemption could only be granted for travelers who had recovered from a serious bout of COVID-19.

“There is no suggestion that the applicant (Djokovic) had ‘acute major medical illness’ in December” when he tested positive, the written submission said.

But in the end, the government lawyers eventually conceded that the decision to proceed with interviewing Djokovic in the early hours of Thursday and cancel his visa before he could contact Tennis Australia or his lawyers was unreasonable.

Djokovic was told at 5:20 a.m. on Thursday that he had until 8:30 a.m. to respond to a notice of intention to cancel his visa. His comments were sought instead at 6:14 a.m.

The decision to cancel his visa was made just over an hour later.

Minister Andrews did not immediately responded to a request for comment. But a spokesperson for Alex Hawke, minister for immigration, citizenship, migrant services and multicultural affairs, acknowledged the court’s decision, adding the minister’s personal discretion remains in play.

“The minister is currently considering the matter and the process remains ongoing,” the spokesman said.

Still, at a news conference in Belgrade, Serbia, Djokovic’s family declared victory.

“This is his greatest victory, greater than all the Grand Slams that he has won,” his mother, Dijana Djokovic, said.

The virtual hearing crashed several times because of an overwhelming number of people from around the world trying to watch the proceedings.

At one point, an expired court link was apparently hacked and broadcast pornography, The New Daily News website reported.

Djokovic has 20 Grand Slam singles titles, a men’s record he shares with Roger Federer and Nadal.

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Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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