Novak Djokovic walked onto Centre Court at Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday afternoon for a closed practice session with his coach Goran Ivanisevic breathing the free Melbourne air but not yet completely free of his visa troubles.
Watching the world number one play, out of hotel detention and back on the court, it is easy to imagine Djokovic returning to compete in the very same arena on January 30 for the men's final of the Australian Open.
A win on that night would give Djokovic his 21st grand slam title and put him a notch beyond Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — who both sit with him on 20 slams right now — and well ahead of the likes of Pete Sampras (14), Roy Emerson (12), Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver (11), as well as any other big names along the way.
He would become the only man to achieve the feat and it would establish him as male tennis's greatest of all time.
It is an achievement that hinges on the Australian government not deporting Djokovic from the country.
Against a backdrop of domestic and international political pressure, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has to deliberate on whether to exercise his discretion and cancel Djokovic's visa.
If the visa is cancelled, it could see the world's number one men's tennis player locked out of Australia for three years.
The stakes make it one of the most high-profile calls Mr Hawke has faced in his 14 months in the job.
There is no definitive deadline for Mr Hawke to make a decision on Djokovic's visa — and according to a government spokesperson, he is in no rush.
"As noted yesterday in the Federal Circuit and Family Court, Minister Hawke is considering whether to cancel Mr Djokovic's visa under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act," a spokesperson for Mr Hawke said on Tuesday.
"In line with due process, Minister Hawke will thoroughly consider the matter."
But, with the beginning of the tournament less than a week away, the pressure on Mr Hawke to make a decision is building.
Discrepancy in Djokovic's travel declaration
Mr Hawke's deliberations may be complicated by new information coming to light on Tuesday about Djokovic's travel declarations.
Documents released by Federal Circuit Court revealed the tennis star stated in his Australian travel declaration form that he had not travelled in the 14 days before his flight to Melbourne.
However, social media posts appear to show Djokovic both in Belgrade on December 25 and training in Spain on December 31 before his arrival in Australia on January 5, which would make the declaration inaccurate.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, penalties apply for giving false and misleading information, including potential criminal prosecution.
Should Djokovic be deported, he could face a three-year ban on re-entry, should the government choose to enforce one.
Politicians weigh in on Djokovic debate
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have held talks over the developing situation, and Australian politicians have added their own commentary.
Liberal MP and former professional tennis player John Alexander has urged his colleagues to allow Djokovic to remain in the country to compete in the Australian Open, as has his Liberal colleague Dave Sharma.
Liberal senator for South Australia Alex Antic has written to the minister asking him not to exercise his personal power to cancel the Serbian's visa.
Novak Djokovic's fate lies in the hands of Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.(AAP: Kelly Defina)
But views within the government are not unanimous.
Liberal MP and chair of federal parliament's joint committee on law enforcement, Julian Simmonds, said the tennis star's visa should be cancelled again because he remains unvaccinated.
"Certainly I would be in favour of the visa being cancelled … that would show Australians there is one rule for everybody and there isn't room for hypocrisy if you're a famous celebrity or sportsman," Mr Simmonds said.
The Victorian state government has stepped back from the debate, deferring to the Commonwealth government.
"There's a court ruling. Whether that's appealed is a matter for the Commonwealth government," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
"If the Immigration Minister wants to use his extraordinary powers, that's a matter for him."
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 1 minute 28 seconds1m 28s Premier Daniel Andrews says responsibility for the visa sits with the federal government.
The Victorian government last week defended the decision of two independent medical boards to grant Djokovic a medical exemption before the star was detained.
While the federal opposition has also deferred to the federal government on the matter, it has called for a quick decision on Djokovic's visa.
"If they're going to make a decision, I think all Australians just want them to make it lawfully and get on with the real business of getting us through this fourth wave [of COVID-19]," Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler said.
Tennis fans sour on Djokovic
While Djokovic still looks to be in top condition on Centre Court, the Serb has not fared as well with the broader tennis public's support.
Spectators interviewed after the Sydney International were almost wholly negative when asked about the world number one.
Tennis fan Dimita said she was not interested in watching Djokovic play.
"I just think Novak's a pretty selfish individual," she said.
"[I'm] not a fan. [He's] a great tennis player but a pretty ordinary person.
"I'm going to turn the TV off when Novak plays at the Australian Open, personally."
Senior tennis players Carol and Julie said unvaccinated players should not be allowed into the country, regardless of their fame.
A judge handed Djokovic a reprieve, but now outsiders are looking in, questioning whether Judge Kelly's Australia — like democracies everywhere — is on the slide.
"If they’re not vaccinated, then they shouldn’t be here," Julie said.
"It makes a mockery of it, doesn’t it?"
Father and son Farid and Saif said while it would be nice to see Djokovic play, it would have been better without the controversy.
"Whatever happened, it's not good for Australia and that's my personal view," Farid said.
"If the whole world is getting vaccinated, why should there be the exception? It's just kind of abusing the system and by saying you had COVID, you can get away with it."
Whether spectators watch him or not, Djokovic is resolute in his goal of playing in the Australian Open, winning and seizing a legendary 21st grand slam title.
Whether the government will allow him the chance remains to be seen.
The first round of the Australian Open is just five days away.
Key dates in the Djokovic saga
- On November 18, Djokovic is granted a temporary activity (subclass 408) visa. Temporary activity visas enable people to work in Australia on a short-term basis, and subclass 408 covers sporting activities.
- On November 29, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt writes to Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley, saying players wishing to enter Australia quarantine-free must be fully vaccinated and cannot count a previous infection as a reason for exemption.
- On December 16, Djokovic tests positive for COVID-19.
- On December 30, Djokovic receives a letter from the Chief Medical Officer of Tennis Australia stating he has been granted a "medical exemption from COVID vaccination" on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID-19.
- On January 1, Djokovic receives an automated online confirmation via the Australian Travel Declaration website/app that he met the requirements for a "quarantine-free arrival into Australia where permitted by the jurisdiction of your arrival".
- Just before midnight on January 5, Djokovic arrives in Melbourne on a flight from Dubai and is detained at the airport.
- In the early hours of January 6, Djokovic is interviewed by Border Force officials before his visa is cancelled and he is transferred to a Melbourne immigration detention hotel.
- Later that day, his lawyers file a challenge against the cancellation of his visa. An injunction is granted to allow Djokovic to remain in the country until January 10, the same day a hearing is scheduled in the Federal Circuit Court.
- On January 10, the court finds Djokovic's visa was unreasonably cancelled and orders his release from immigration detention. After his release, the tennis star publicly states his intention to stay in the country and compete at the Australian Open