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Australia Court Begins Hearing Djokovic Bid To Avoid Deportation; At Least 19 Dead, Including 9 Children In Massive Fire At Bronx; Myanmar's Suu Kyi Faces Six Years In Jail After New Sentences; Russia and U.S. Meet To Begin Negotiations Over Ukraine; Novak Djokovic Wins Appeal Against Decision To Cancel His Australian Visa. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired January 10, 2022 - 01:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. Appreciate your company.

Coming up here on the program. Novak Djokovic waits word for word on whether he can stay in Australia. We're monitoring the court hearing currently underway.

New York City deals with one of the worst fires in modern history. Official Site they know the cause.

And a surgeon Coronavirus cases among children in the U.S. a difficult dilemma of whether to return to the classroom.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from CNN Center. This is CNN Newsroom with Michael Holmes.

HOLMES: Top ranked tennis star Novak Djokovic is battling to have his visa reinstated ahead of the Australian Open tournament. Right now his lawyers are making their case at a virtual Melbourne court hearing. Djokovic's visa was cancelled on arrival in Australia for allegedly not meeting vaccination requirements for entry. Documents confirm he is unvaccinated but was granted a medical exemption after recovering from COVID. The federal government though says that doesn't count.

Meantime his supporters are gathered outside the courthouses the hearing continues. Djokovic has been cleared to watch the hearing via video leave.

Now in these native Serbia, his parents joined fans at a rally in Belgrade to show their support for the tennis star. CNNs Phil Black has been tracking developments he joins me now live from Melbourne in Victoria. You know, it's interesting the back and forth the judge at one point said what more could this man have done? How's it all heading? What are the arguments made? PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're just quickly the latest, Michael, just over an hour ago we were expecting some form of closure here. That was also coincidentally the time when the injunction preventing Novak Djokovic's deportation from the country was due to expire. The judge at that point said well, we'll extend it till 8:00, local time. So that's another four hours into the evening here.

The court is still undergoing an adjournment at the request of the government's lawyer. And we expect the government's lawyer to continue their argument when they return.

We heard from Djokovic's lawyer through the day, essentially talking about how and why they believe he was treated unfairly and unreasonably from the moment that he presented himself to Australian Border Force officials, essentially at passport control when he arrived. They detail what they believe to be a series of, of mistakes and its judgments, a series of incorrect procedures or breaches with correct procedure, I should say.

And on top of that, crucially, they argue that he in good faith believe that he had everything he needed to justify entering the country with an exemption from vaccination for the same reasons that the Australian Open granted him an exemption for from -- an exemption to play without being vaccinated. And that is because the body, which advises the government on vaccine policy says that when someone is recovering within six months of a COVID infection, there are grounds for a temporary exemption. The government lawyer through the afternoon has been disagreeing with all of that.

But it is fair to say at times, I think the judge has sounded fairly sympathetic to the arguments that were presented by Novak Djokovic's lawyer particularly in terms of the evidence that he presented upon arrival. And when it comes to the way he was treated and processed through those eight hours or so that he spent in the company of Border Force officials before they eventually decided to cancel his visa.

But as I say we're now undergoing a short adjournment with the expectation that the hearing here is going to continue into the evening, Michael.

HOLMES: And Phil, I got to ask you, his parents have decried the conditions he's been in the hotel and I see the signs behind you protesters because that hotel is where Australia keeps migrants and others isn't it the detention shines a light on the country's really complex refugee and migrant process and policy, doesn't it?

BLACK: Yes, this hotel behind me has been a focus of protest long before Novak Djokovic checked in and came to stay for a while. The reason why is because many people who are currently around 30, we understand, people who are either asylum seekers or refugees are currently held in their in something of a state of legal limbo while the government works out what to do with them. And that's because of a very strict policy that the federal government has in this -- and has enacted for some time now, which is intense on deterring people arriving on boats seeking asylum.


The policy essentially states that if you get here this way, regardless of how just your claim to asylum, you will never be settled here in Australia. And so that is how people come to exist in this limbo, if you like and can enjoy the years of being detained in either a facility like this or others, both in Australia and elsewhere, now often with very terrible stories to tell.

It has been a subject of criticism from refugee advocates and around the world in here for many, many years, but it doesn't often get this sort of spotlight. It is however now doing so because it has a very famous celebrity guest in the hotel behind me. This hotel is not only detaining asylum seekers refugees, but also the world's number one tennis player.

HOLMES: Yes, yes. And those who've advocated for those asylum seekers are probably grateful for the spotlight. Phil Black in Melbourne. Appreciate it. Good to see my friend.

All right. Joining me now to discuss more about this is CNN World Sports Patrick Snell, good to see my friend. As far as Djokovic's career goes, 20 Grand Slam wins, needs one more to hold the record on his own. He's not getting any younger. What is missing a Grand Slam do for his chances of breaking the record, especially since Rafael Nadal is also on 20 and is playing in Australia.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORTS: Yes, Michael. Yes, great to see you as well. Happy New Year as well, by the way on.

HOLMES: Thank you.

SNELL: All the very best to. Yes, you make a great point. Look, Novak Djokovic, turning 35 later on this year in May. This if he doesn't get to play in the Australian Open will be a huge blow to him. Look, he came very close last year to getting there when he failed in the final the U.S. Open in New York City lost in straight sets in our final to the Russian star, Daniil Medvedev.

Remember, he's going for the golden slam last year. That would have been incredible. He would have been the first man to do it. That's winning all four tennis slams in a year plus gold medal at the Olympics. Michael, as you well know the only person ever to do that, a certain Steffi Graf of Germany in 1988.

But we put up there the Grand Slam tournament's for this year. If he doesn't get to play in Melbourne, his next opportunity, his next crack at number 21 is the French Open in Paris and we got Wimbledon and we got the U.S. Open. We do know that players playing in this year's French Open do not have to be fully vaccinated. So we do know that. So there is a real chance that without question that Djokovic will be playing in that one.

But of course by the time the French Open comes around, if Djokovic doesn't play in Australia, Nadal --

HOLMES: Yes. SNELL: -- intriguingly could already be at number 21. Roger Federer missing out due to injury at the Aussie Open this year.

HOLMES: And Nadal loves the French Open.

SNELL: Yes. He kind of owns it, right?

HOLMES: Yes, he kind of owns it. Federer, the other person on 20 isn't playing. Nadal as we said is he could get to 21. I mean, it speaks to, you know, what this is all meant for the tournament itself. How, you know, if Djokovic doesn't play, how does it affect the draw?

SNELL: Well, you know, Rafa Nadal will be absolutely not getting himself carried away. But look, he just had a big winner himself over this weekend that's going to do wonders for his morale. He of course is coming back from injury. He had a recent COVID positive test as well despite being fully vaccinated.

So Rafa Nadal intriguingly on 20 Grand Slam titles, as you've just said, with Djokovic. He will be looking very, very optimistically indeed. But he exudes quiet confidence but of course Daniil Medvedev of Russia is a player that is not to be trifled with as well. Alexander Zverev many people can't believe still, that the highly talented German is still seeking his first career Grand Slam.

There is players in that tournament draw that are oozing class and desperate to have a crack at getting their hands on the title, the year's first Grand Slam of the new year. It's always a very special occasion as you well know, Michael, the Australian Open and it all starts one week today. This is just a horrible mess for Novak Djokovic and all concerned with him.

HOLMES: Absolutely. And if Djokovic doesn't play, there's only one person in the drawer who can get to 21 and his name's Rafael Nadal. It's going to be a fascinating tournament either way, you and I love it. Patrick, thanks so much. Good to see you.

SNELL: Thank you.

HOLMES: All right, at least 19 people are dead, including nine children from the fire in New York City, it broke out Sunday morning in a Bronx apartment building. The Fire Commissioner says 32 people were also sent to hospitals with what were described as life threatening conditions.


CHANASIA HUNTER, APARTMENT RESIDENT: I'm just, you know, sad because this is like a family. You know, we lost a lot of lives, which really -- it hurts very bad, especially children and even elders like I see these people every day. It's hurtful.


HOLMES: Fire commissioner says the flames quickly spread throughout two floors and open door the apartment where the fire started sent heavy smoke throughout the building. And many people couldn't find their way out.



DANIEL A. NIGRO, NEW YORK FIRE COMMISSIONER: The door was left open to the apartment, there was at least one door open from the stairwell to a floor and one of the upper floors, smoke and heat travel upward. That we know, that's what happened here.

As the mayor said, it was a very difficult job for our members, their air tanks can contain a certain amount of air, they ran out of air many of our members and they continue working to try to get as many people out as they could.

It certainly is traumatizing when we can't save a life. And our members, you know, tried diligently fire and EMS members to bring some of these people back and to bring them out as quickly as they could. So, we will have our counseling service be very busy after this with our members who are saddened by this terrible loss.


HOLMES: Now New York's mayor calls the fire one of the worst the city has seen in modern times. CNN's Polo Sandoval with more.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It took only hours for fire investigators to locate what's been described as physical evidence that confirms that it was a space heater that initially started this fire that quickly broke out it was -- just before noon on Sunday, when that fire broke out.

Investigators saying that it wasn't the flames that caused so much death and destruction but it was a smoke effect some of the pictures that you're able to see from the scene. You can actually see how that smoke was billowing out of windows even in the top floors of the 19- storey building.

We now know that at least 19 people confirmed dead and there is concern that that death toll could potentially continue to rise. And we also know that many of the dead are children simply adding to that heartbreak. And much of that heartbreak, the governor of New York actually seen firsthand as she spoke with some of those affected families.

KATHY HOCHUL, NEW YORK GOVERNOR: We are indeed a city in shock. It's impossible to go into that room. We're scores a family who are in such grief, who are in pain. To see it in a mother's eyes as I held her who lost her entire family. It's hard to fathom what they're going through. And I went table to table help children make the Raymond noodles and eat their pizza and let them know one thing. And the mayor and I are united in this. We will not forget you. We will not abandon you. We are here for you. SANDOVAL: In the days ahead the community continues to come together. In fact, late Sunday night, we could actually see as many members of the community coming together to going into a neighboring school that was serving as a temporary shelter making sure that those affected families have not just a warm place to stay, but also one meal. Back to you.


HOLMES: Thanks to Polo Sandoval there. Now the actor and comedian Bob Saget has died. The star of the television series "Full House" was found deceased in an Orlando area hotel room on Sunday. Authorities have found no signs of foul play or drug use and say a cause of death will be determined by a medical examiner.

Saget was in Florida as part of his comedy tour. In a statement, his family says quote, he was everything to ask him. We want you to know how much he loved his fans performing live and bringing people from all walks of life together with laughter. Saget was just 65 years old.

The Russian President Vladimir Putin may have his legacy in mind ahead of talks between the U.S. and Moscow. We'll discuss what that means for Ukraine and NATO after the break.



HOLMES: A court in Myanmar has sentenced the POWs leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in prison on several charges, including smuggling walkie talkies. Suu Kyi on trial for a number of cases in December, she was sentenced to four years on charges of incitement and breaking COVID-19 rules. That sentence later reduced the two years. She's denied all the charges. Anna Coren in Hong Kong with the very latest. Tell us what you know, Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael, the military is really doing everything it can to keep Aung San Suu Kyi behind bars. You mentioned that she has been convicted of those three charges. She will serve a four years behind bars, one of those being under the communication law, which was the possession of unlicensed walkie talkies.

We have to remember that back in December, she was sentenced to another four years for breaching COVID rules greeting her supporters during the second wave of the pandemic.

There was a backlash at the time widespread criticism of these harsh sentence the military junta then turned around and reduced it to two years. So who knows they could do the same today. But as it stands, at this moment, Michael, she is facing six years behind bars and that is not taking into consideration.

What she was slapped with just last week, another five more charges. And this was related to the rental and purchase of a helicopter for the use of natural disasters and emergencies and state affairs. We know that since she was deposed on the first of February in that military coup, that she has faced more than a dozen charges which could carry, you know, a sentence of more than 100 years behind bars.

I mean, what we're talking about is this Nobel Peace Prize Laureate at the age of 76, you know, she could potentially spend the rest of her life in jail.

Her supporters, Michael, say that all these charges are baseless and that they just want to end her political career. They're certainly doing a very good job of that.

As for the resistance movement, you know, we saw those one spread protests when that coup took place last year that brutal crackdown then followed hundreds were killed, thousands were arrested


But whilst we may not be seen seeing those crowds on the streets, we know that that resistance movement is still underway. We just spoke to our local producer on the ground in Myanmar and he said that he has been hearing of explosions in the cities that this is apparently being staged by the underground resistance movement. He knows that many protesters went to the jungles to learn how to train with the ethnic minorities in Myanmar.

And so whilst Aung San Suu Kyi may be behind bars and facing a very lengthy prison sentence. You know, the people of Myanmar, the protesters are still trying in their way, Michael, to resist the military junta.

HOLMES: Yes, Anna, thank you for the latest there. Anna Coren in Hong Kong.

Now, at least 164 people are dead, more than 5,000 are being detained in connection with those protests in Kazakhstan. The demonstrations that began over a spike in fuel prices have expanded to anger over government corruption, poverty and unemployment. Forces from a Russian led military alliance are on the ground now at the Kazakh President's request to help restore order.

As Russian troops pour into Afghanistan, the U.S. is hoping dialogue can keep the Kremlin out of Ukraine. With Russia's troop buildup, stoking fears of an all-out invasion, talks between the U.S. and Moscow was set to begin in Switzerland in less than two hours from now.

Now, this was the scene as the Russian delegation touched down in Geneva on Sunday. The Russians being led by diplomat Sergei Ryabkov, who will meet with the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Sherman will also lead the U.S. delegation at meetings between NATO and Russia on Wednesday. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Geneva with a look at what led to these talks.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Russia's troop buildup on Ukraine's border triggered tensions. By mid- November, close to 100,000 troops, U.S.-NATO fearing an invasion of Ukraine. Russia denied hostile intent, claiming legitimate training on their own soil and demanded talks.

As Ukraine reinforced frontlines, report of a covert Russian plan to topple Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. President Vladimir Putin got President Joe Biden's attention and a video call. Biden warned Putin an invasion would trigger massive sanctions. U.S. allies backed him up.

LIZ TRUSS, BRITISH FOREIGN SERETARY: We made clear that any further military incursion into Ukraine would bring massive consequences.

ROBERTSON: Days later, Russia responded submitting separate security demands to the U.S. and NATO wanting among other things, legally binding guarantees NATO deny Ukraine membership, a non-starter for NATO. Russia's track record of invading neighbors, Georgia 2008. In 2014, annexing Crimea in Ukraine and backing breakaway separatists carving out territory in the country's east, leaving Putin's credibility on the eve of talks at an all-time low.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: The capabilities, the rhetoric and the track record, of course, that sends a message that is a real risk for new armed conflict in Europe.

ROBERTSON: From Putin's perspective, the collapse of communism and NATO's expansion since finally hit his red line, Ukraine.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Are we deploying missiles near the U.S. borders? No, we're not. It was the USA if you came with missiles to our house.

ROBERTSON: By pitching the U.S. and NATO separate demands and seeking separate meetings, Putin wants to weaken NATO.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: They want to draw us into a debate about NATO, rather than focus on the matter at hand, which is their aggression toward Ukraine. We won't be diverted from that issue.

ROBERTSON (on camera): Going into these high state talks Monday, U.S. officials say they're going to share Russia's tactics with their allies. So when they go into talks with NATO later in the week, they can be better united. But Biden has told Putin if he deescalates tensions, then progress can be made. The challenge for the U.S. will be finding a compromise that's agreeable for European allies, but strong enough for Putin to sell at home. Nic Robertson, CNN, Geneva.


HOLMES: CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger joins me now. He's also White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times.


David, good to see you. Now, the reality is the U.S. is not going to commit troops to protect Ukraine from any Russian incursion, what then are the potential penalties the U.S. could use as leverage to dissuade Russia from any provocation?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's good to be with you. And they've been laying out in pretty clear terms now to the Russians and through the Europeans what those penalties would look like. Some are financial cutting off the biggest Russian banks from the world financial system. Some are technological. They would involve export barriers to sending semiconductors, other microelectronics into Russia that could be used for industrial purposes for defense purposes.

But also being contemplated is cutting off all consumer electronics that use American design chips or software. So that could mean cell phones, it could mean refrigerators, it could mean many of the things on which the Russians are highly dependent on, on imports.

HOLMES: Right.

SANGER: And then finally, there's the military support for an insurgency should Russia actually invade.

HOLMES: Yes, yes, exactly. And those troops are already forming in Ukraine too. Is there a sense that after what was really a tepid U.S. response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and also the stoking of the proxy war in Ukraine's east, is there a sense that the Americans won't that they can't let that happen again, and any response to something new, would have to be significant?

SANGER: There is a sense that they made a big mistake in 2014. First of all, they were caught by surprise, which they wouldn't be here. Because the invasion that ended up in the annexation of Crimea no one really saw it coming. And by the time they got around to sanctions, it was already a done deal.

So the idea here is to telegraph, what the sanctions would be ahead of time in hoping that that changes Putin's calculus, but I think there's also a sense that the reaction in 2014 was too mild, and that perhaps it was too mild after the manipulation, or effort to manipulate the election in 2016. And after the solar wind site --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

HOLMES: We break away from that interview with David Sanger to bring you some breaking news. There has been a decision in the Novak Djokovic case. CNn's Phil Black has been tracking all of it joins us now from Melbourne. I think a lot of people might be surprised, Phil.

BLACK: Well, it's significant news, Michael. A short time ago, the judge that has been hearing the arguments today, Judge Anthony Kelly, ordered that the cancellation of Novak Djokovic's visa be overturned. Djokovic's lawyers have successfully argued their case in court today.

The V -- the cancellation of his visa will be overturned. He will be released within 30 minutes of that decision. And the order has been that while his personal effects, his passport will be returned to him. Now, we don't have the specific reasoning behind the judge's conclusions there why he has come to that decision. But we've been talking through the day how at various points, the judge certainly sounded sympathetic to the arguments that were being made towards him, particularly in terms of the procedural issues that Djokovic's lawyers argued, had occurred while the process was unfolding, as he was being interviewed and processed at the Australian Border last week.

They alleged that he was treated unfairly unreasonable at various points. But they also say that he acted in good faith and had plenty of good evidence to show why he should be allowed into the country without an exemption.

The government's lawyer has been arguing against this through the afternoon. And it's now up to them, I guess, to determine what happens next, whether there is grounds potentially for some further appeal. There is also the possibility we are told that in these sorts of cases, it is not unusual for the government having lost its attempt to cancel a visa to then come up with a whole new reason for doing so. And essentially bringing the process back to square one. We don't know.

And indeed, I've heard the Prime Minister asked whether the government would pursue that sort of option, should they lose the case and they haven't revealed what their intentions would be there just yet.


So the ball is in their court in terms of whether or not this has further to play out in a legal sense. But for the moment a significant win for Novak Djokovic in court, one that allows him to leave detention within minutes, we understand and have all of his effects returned to him, and if unchallenged, if accepted -- and that's I guess the big if at this stage -- but if accepted by the government, that that would mean he is free to continue his preparations for the Australian Open which is set to begin in around a week's time, Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: It's going to be interesting to see his reception when he goes on the center court. I mean the interesting thing here is that the Australian government -- I mean the Victorian government has said one thing, Tennis Australia said another.

The prime minister himself has come out and forcefully said the law is prior infection is not a reason to get in. Where does that statement go now, because if that is the federal government's law, that surely should take precedent. What's been the reasoning on that?

BLACK: Well, I guess it comes out to the interpretation of the law. And that's what a lot of the discussions in court have been about today. But certainly, I think there is a reason to think the government will pursue this further if they have the option of doing so

And that is, because as you touched on there, the prime minister, the government have really back the decisions that were made by the border force at the border last week in pulling Djokovic aside and then ultimately deciding to cancel his visa.

They had backed that decision completely, given it their political full support, essentially saying this is a case of Australian law being applied equally -- being applied equally to people no matter who they are, no matter what their reason for coming here, no matter how rich or famous.

The government has been accused of trying to score points -- being accused of trying to score points politically here, something that they have rejected. But this would come as something of an embarrassment for them simply because they've invested so much political capital in supporting the decisions that were made in canceling Novak Djokovic's visa in the first place, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. And to that point, I mean the politics, and we talked about this last hour, the politics in Australia -- and look, there's been a lot of speculation that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in some ways this was a gift for him because he was fighting off a number of controversies.

There's an election on the horizon. And that this was a good diversion in a way to play tough guy on immigration, right?

BLACK: Well, it's certainly a theory that's been put up there. There's a federal election coming. That coming election would be seen as a referendum on the government's handling of the pandemic to this point. And there have been stumbles along the way, some pretty significant ones notably with the early days of the vaccine rollout.

Currently infections are soaring here as they are in many parts of the world, but Australia has endured very tough lockdown conditions, very strict border controls.

And not everyone is certainly happy with the way the government has handled it. There is plenty of reason to suggest the government was going to face a real fight in this coming election.

And so the theory goes that the government has made a calculation that it's not going to lose too many points by being tough and uncompromising on Novak Djokovic.

Now as I said, what it does from here will be quite fascinating to watch and see whether it can afford to simply back down and accept the court judgment as it is.

Well, I would say that doesn't seem likely, and it does not seem in fitting with the style of this government in terms of -- in terms of how it tends to respond when under pressure, I think. But we wait to see what the government's next move will be.

For the moment, it is something of an embarrassment for them that Novak Djokovic will be walking free from detention here in Melbourne, the city.

HOLMES: Yes, that's a good point. I mean the government will not like this and whether they take further action is going to be interesting. It could happen in the next few hours I suppose.

And real quick before I let you go. So this literally means that Novak Djokovic, well he goes and packs up his bag and goes to a nicer hotel presumably.

BLACK: Yes, presumably. He goes to whatever accommodation arrangements he had in place when he traveled here originally. He would have had a place in mind where he was preparing to train, eat, sleep, rest, get ready as a world class athlete does as, you know, as a top flight tennis player does for a Grand Slam title, one that he's, you know, pretty keen on winning.

And he will get playing in, and certainly winning. I guess, that's the take away from his willingness to endure all of this. The fact that he didn't just get on a plane and head home. So he's determined to walk out onto center court at some point in the coming weeks.

And he holds very strong aspirations to winning here in Melbourne again. It would be his 10th victory and crucially would be his overall 21st Grand Slam title, taking him one title ahead of his great rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

So what plays out here in Melbourne over the coming weeks is, potentially historic, certainly in the game of tennis, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Ratings are going to be sky high. Did is knock him off his preparation or does it fire him up?

Phil Black in Melbourne, great to see you, thanks you so much for that.

And we're going to take a quick break here on CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be right back.



HOLMES: And more on the breaking news right now.

Australian circuit court judge Anthony Kelly has rejected the cancellation of Novak Djokovic's Australian visa. The men's number one tennis player will be immediately released from immigration detention.

For more on this let's turn to "WORLDSPORT's" Patrick Snell here in Atlanta, and Ben Rothenberg in Melbourne. He's senior editor at "Racket Magazine" and the host of "No Challengers Remaining" podcast.

Patrick, let's start with you. Perhaps a surprise to many given what the federal government's firm rules stated rules have been. The sporting question I guess is does the experience throw him off kilter in terms of preparation or fire him up given the competitor he is?

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLDSPORT HOST: Yes, the ultimate competitor. One who is so motivated, Michael, to go on and make history. Remember what's at stake here. He's trying to become the most successful men's player in the history of the sport in terms of Grand Slam titles. He wants that number 21 very badly indeed, you know.

And I think the fact that he's put himself through this over the last few days is absolutely testimony to that. What he's been willing to go through, to suffer almost to get to this point.

You know, you look at his upbringing. You look at everything he's been through to get to this point. The family challenges he had a youngster in the part of the world where he grew up. You know, no stranger to adversity.

I would say he absolutely thrives on it. And I do believe that if he does as now looks likely, who knows we're still waiting to see if there are further twists and plot twists a-plenty we've had already with this saga.


SNELL: If he does go on and play, he is going to be absolutely determined. I am tapping into what Nick Kyrgios said a few days ago as well, Michael. Nick Kyrgios saying that, that if he doesn't get the chance to play, he's one that no one is going to face, you would think.

The Australian open starts a week today, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Nick Kyrgios saying if he plays, I don't want to play him.

SNELL: Well, to that effect, yes.

HOLMES: Yes. That's pretty much what he said.

Ben Rothenberg, let's go to you there in Melbourne. You know, I guess, you know, where does this -- what is going to be -- and you and I have talked about this over the last couple days -- the Australian ethos of no one gets special treatment. You can't come in here because you're a rich and famous tennis player and get around rules that the rest of us have to do. Melbourne has been the most locked-down city in the world pretty much, 260 days out of the last year.

What are Melbournians going to make of this decision when he does take the court, presuming he does?

BEN ROTHENBERG, EDITOR, "RACKET MAGAZINE": This is going to be a very polarizing moment for sure, if and when Novak Djokovic does indeed take the court at the Australian Open after winning this first round of the legal battle.

Djokovic has his supporters for sure. There's a big Serbian community in Melbourne who will turn out in force and be vocal for him. But also there's been a great deal of resentment and anger towards people seeing him as trying to get around the rules, is trying to get special treatment in a city like you said, where there's been incredible sacrifice and group commitment from the entire population pretty much of Melbourne to agree to these lockdowns. To have really high vaccination rates.

And so for Djokovic to come in from the outside and be seen as circumventing that will be deeply unpopular and irritating for a lot of people in the city. So it could be a very, very polarized, very fractious atmosphere especially by tennis standards if and when he does play first match at Australian Open this year.

HOLMES: And Ben, before we go back to Patrick, give us a sense of -- you're there Melbourne, what are the other players generally been saying about his circumstance?

ROTHENBERG: You know, there's a little bit of sympathy for sure for him just as a human being who's been in this predicament and his ordeal being held at the detention center for days. And the uncertainty and the fear that will cause that people, you know, like him on a collegial level and feel bad for him in that sense.

But also I think there was a sense that he was getting special treatment that wouldn't have been afforded to most people. And that he in some ways brought this on himself, or many ways brought this on himself by choosing to stay unvaccinated which less than 3 percent of tennis players we believe at this point have made that choice, still to hold out and be among the unvaccinated.

So there's a sense going that Djokovic made life difficult for himself, but also there is definitely a level of pity and sympathy for a friend of their, a colleague of theirs is going through a tough time right now.

HOLMES: Yes. And Patrick, back to you. You know, we talked last hour that Rafael Nadal was probably feeling, I don't know, reasonably good because his competitor for the Grand Slam number 21 was possibly not going to be playing.

Well, he is at the moment, unless there's more action by the federal government. What does it do the draw? How are things looking?

SNELL: Yes. and to Ben's point, you know, Nadal, one of those players to a certain degree sympathizing saying look I have some sympathy, but yes, you know, he knew what he had to do to enter the country which was to be fully vaccinated.

But to your point, yes, wow what a tournament we're already going to have Michael, no question about that. Nadal himself going for number 21 in terms of Grand Slam titles. Roger Federer, of course, not playing this year due to injury.

But there's other, there's a high-class feel there, an elite caliber of tennis players. Alexander Zverev of Germany, of course, many people tip him to go on and finally win his first career Grand Slam at some point this year.

And of course, the Russian star, Daniil Medvedev as well, the reigning U.S. Open champion. So just everywhere you look, it's oozing class and oozing talent. But we've already had the biggest story I believe at this year's Australian Open. We're seeing it unfold right now. And if -- if Djokovic does go on to play, and if he goes to win a 10th Australian Open title and a record 21st men's Grand Slam title, what a storyline.

But as Ben has been saying a storyline just full of contentiousness everywhere you look at it, right?

HOLMES: I'm trying to picture him walking onto the court for the first time at a crowded arena there, Rod Laver Arena, and seeing what the public reaction is going to be.

And Ben, to you real quick there, there still are questions that remain in terms of how he handled all of this. The photographs of him unmasked in public the day he said he tested positive. And also if he only tested positive December 16, what was his plan to come to Australian then without that positive test? What was going to do? There's some -- there's some loose ends here.

ROTHENBERG: Absolutely, there's some real questions that need answering I think. Of course, they'll go hear and see his story and that's been -- it could come up in the next round of legal proceedings.


ROTHENBERG: Djokovic's win in this ruling really, I think will probably be a sort of round one victory because the government here has made it clear they're ready to appeal this. They're ready to restart this over.

And then this second phase could lead to more things like checking the veracity of his medical documents, checking his timeline trying to figure out why did he apply for a visa before he had a reason for an exemption. And why did he miss the exemption deadline, you know?

Because a COVID test for him he says happened on the December 16th which was very recently. It's less than a month ago. So what was his plan in how to get to Australia before this test arrived for him just in time?

There's some questions that certainly needs some answers that we'll see how much satisfaction they get either from Djokovic himself or from further legal proceedings, maybe that could elucidate things.

HOLMES: Yes, that timing question is one, I think a lot of people want to know. Ben Rothenberg there in Melbourne. Patrick Snell here in Atlanta. I think we'll all be glued to the TV set when it goes to round one.

I appreciate it. Thanks gentlemen.

All right. We're going to take a break.

When we come back here on CNN NEWSROOM. The spread of the omicron variant disrupting learning for children, how it's forcing parents and educators to make some difficult decisions.

We'll be right back.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

U.S. parents and educators alike are feeling the impact of surging omicron cases. Some school systems battling teachers' unions to bring students back to the classroom while others are struggling to decide if virtual learning is the safer option.

CNN's Nadia Romero explains.


NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So here in Georgia, the Atlanta public school district will be back to school starting on Monday after spending a week with remote learning. And that means mandatory testing for all teachers at least twice a week. And students can undergo testing as well as long as they have parental consent.


ROMERO: But testing remains a big issue when it comes to school districts in Chicago and in New York City. The teachers' unions in those cities are battling with their city mayors over how to keep kids in school and do it safely.

Let's take Chicago for instance. They had three consecutive days last week without having any school at all. The teachers' union this weekend said they would be willing to come back for virtual teaching, meaning they would be in the classroom, teaching while the students were at home remote learning.

But the mayor of Chicago, along with the mayor of New York City, says they only want to see in-person learning, and here's why.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK CITY: Science dictates one thing -- the safest place for children is in a school building. And what we want to do is not get in the way of preventing children from come into that building.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO: Fundamentally what we cannot do is abandon the science. We know, that the safest place for kids to be is in-person learning in school.

And we've spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make our schools safe. They are safe. We've got the data that demonstrate that. We've got to get the teachers' union to get real and get serious about getting back into in-person learning.

ROMERO: Now, along with the issues we are seeing in the school room we are also seeing a rising number of pediatric hospitalizations across the country. Especially when you look at the age group of those who are 5 and younger and who are not eligible to get vaccinated. That age group we are seeing about a 48 percent increase in pediatric hospitalizations for 5 and younger, when you look at the week of December 4th compared to the week of January 1st and that is an alarming statistic.

Nadia Romero, CNN -- Atlanta.


HOLMES: The omicron variant is pushing COVID case numbers to new records in a number of countries. The Philippines reporting nearly 29,000 new cases Sunday according to state-run news and that is a pandemic high.

Mexico also set a new daily record. More than 30,000 new cases Saturday. Health authorities warned the lack of widespread testing means that number is probably low. Also a lot of folks testing at home and their results not going to the system either.

Starting Monday, Italy is requiring a super green pass to access most public areas. It's only granted to those who are fully vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be right back.



HOLMES: And recapping our breaking news for you. A circuit court judge in Australia has rejected the cancellation of Novak Djokovic's visa. The men's number one tennis player will be released within minutes from immigration detention and can stay in the country for this month's Australian Open.

But the government says the immigration minister will be considering whether to intervene and exercise a personal power of cancellation. Djokovic's visa was canceled on arrival in Australia for not -- for allegedly not meeting vaccination requirements for entry. He was initially granted a medical exemption after recovering from COVID but court documents confirm he is unvaccinated.

Interesting developments.

Thanks for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @HolmesCNN.

Do stay with us, the news continues with Rosemary Church next.