IT’S another hot summer down here in Melbourne and we’re suffering madness. Madness in the guise of a tennis-playing fool making a mockery of what we thought were the tightest vaccination rules in the world; fit for a hermit kingdom.

Australia went early and hard with a clampdown on Covid. The international borders were shut in March 2020 (a federal government decision) while travel within Australia was almost impossible as each of eight states has its own rules. That kept the number of deaths from Covid down to one of the lowest in the world – below 1000 for the first 18 months until Omicron came along.

Every family testifies to the hardship the Covid rules have caused but Australians tend to take their health very seriously and they follow the rules, so much so that nearly 94% are double-shotted. Only a small hard core of anti-vax, “freedom loving” and “wellness” cranks have held out. The rest of us have got on with Covid normal life and do the right thing: that is getting vaccinated, wearing masks, social distancing, and being ultra careful. And working from home – for those who can.

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Australia, as a country appropriated and then settled by British convicts, has a well-honed paranoia of foreigners swamping this island country. Initially it was the fear of the “yellow peril” – Chinese moving into the world’s least populated country and “taking our jobs and our women”. The right-wing press at the time – led by The Bulletin – made hay with that nonsense. But to this day the right-wing media and the conservative Liberal party along with its rural National Party partners stir that xenophobia pot as often as they can.

Into that playbook steps PM Scott Morrison who is banging on about “strong borders” just as his party championed the “stop the boats” (anti-refugee) slogan which has won them elections for the last 20 years. So with an election due in a few months … in steps most conveniently and on cue “johnny foreigner” Novak Djokovic. And sensing easy votes to be won, the PM thunders: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. And he should be on the next plane home.”

His target is squarely Australian voters as the Australian courts initially ignored those “rules”, allowing Djokovic’s lawyers to win a reprieve on a procedural basis (he’d filled out all the forms, turns out wrongly) allowing Djokovic to stay and play the Australian Open and potentially win his 21st grand slam and claim the mantle as the world’s best ever tennis player – despite everything and everyone.

Given those “tough rules”, no one in Melbourne expected the world’s No1 tennis anti-vaxxer to fly into Melbourne on January 6 – 10 days ago – and make a mockery of the tight border controls we endure, to say nothing of all the other international tennis players – including Andy Murray, and Stefanos Tsitsipas who accused Djokovic of “playing by his own rules”.

They all complied with the rules and got vaccinated before coming to compete in this week’s Australian Open. In Djokovic’s case, not only is he proud to have avoided vaccination but he thought he could avoid the statutory two-week quarantine as he claims to be “immune” after “recovering from Covid” in December.

So what made this joker think he could be the exception to Australian rules? That consumes every discussion in Melbourne. Go to any of our thousands of cafes and bars, and you hear the same points being debated. Everyone wants him gone, booted out and back to Serbia – except, that is, for a tiny bunch of fanatical Serbs who think their Man is the second coming of Jesus or Spartacus and have been holding nightly rallies and protests demanding his release.

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Don't get me wrong, Melbournians can’t wait to be able to travel again and many remain upset that family and friends were prevented from flying in from overseas to attend weddings and funerals – especially as the rules require two weeks’ quarantine. But with the second coming of Covid – courtesy of the Omicron variant – everyone is reasonably sanguine and accepting that for now we must play safe. Except for the self-entitled Djokovic, who expects to play under his own rules. He and his lawyers are back in court this weekend appealing against the second cancellation of his visa.

Meanwhile the rest of us can’t wait to see him escorted back to the airport and climbing those steps to … nowhere. And then we can all get back to life under Covid normal.

Andrew Jaspan is the founding editor of the Sunday Herald which he left in 2004 to become Editor of The Melbourne Age. He is now editor-in-chief of the newswire