The Star Democrat

Djokovic sinks bid before it can begin

- BY JIM LITKE

Novak Djokovic’s abrupt exit from the Australian Open gives new meaning to the term “unforced error.”

Just to be clear, Djokovic could have steered clear of the entire mess by getting vaccinated like Rafa Nadal, his greatest rival, and just about all the other players, officials, staff members and even fans who set foot inside Melbourne Park when the tournament begins Jan. 17. Or like the “handful” of other players that Australian Open director Craig Tiley acknowledg­ed were also granted exemptions, he could have simply shown up, shut up and kept his fingers crossed hoping that nobody noticed.

Instead, just before his flight from Dubai to Australia, Djokovic bragged about it on Twitter.

“I’ve spent fantastic quality time with loved ones over break & today I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission,” Djokovic wrote. “Let’s go 2022.”

Not so fast.

Djokovic is almost unbeatable at tennis, but politics is a whole other game. By the time he landed at Melbourne’s Tullamarin­e Airport, a nation that endured months-long lockdowns and kept its border closed until recently was spitting mad. Suddenly, his exemption wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

“The rule is very clear,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday. “You need to have a medical exemption. He didn’t have a valid medical

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