It was probably fitting, given the times, that this most embarrassing of verdicts for the Morrison government was delivered virtually.
After a day-long online Federal Circuit Court hearing marred by technical glitches, Judge Anthony Kelly announced just after 5pm on Monday that Novak Djokovic was to be freed from immigration detention, the decision to cancel his visa sensationally quashed.
This was not an outcome the government wanted, for reasons beyond the indignity of a high-profile legal loss.
Two other Australian Open participants who entered the country under similar circumstances to the Serbian star had been pushed out of the country after the visa saga erupted last week. There was hopes of making it "three from three".
Instead, the government was ordered to release the world number one from detention and pay his legal costs.
Djokovic was on Rod Laver Arena for a late-night training session just hours after his release.
There might yet be further twists in this seemingly ever-twisting saga.
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— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) January 10, 2022
I remain focused on that. I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans. 👇 pic.twitter.com/iJVbMfQ037
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke was expected as soon as Tuesday to decide whether to use his personal powers to re-cancel Djokovic's visa, a decision which would ordinarily trigger a ban of three years from entering Australia.
Whatever the final outcome, no amount of government spin can reframe Judge Kelly's verdict as anything other than embarrassing defeat for the Morrison government.
The embarrassment is the result of the politicization of the Djokovic case by Morrison and his ministers.
Morrison, alert to public outrage over Djokovic's arrival in Australia and keen to distract from problems with rapid antigen tests, chose to make the Serbian's case about his government's tough border policies.
Rules are rules, especially when it comes to Australia's borders, Morrison tweeted in the hours after Djokovic's visa was cancelled.
There is a certain irony in the fact it was a breakdown in the running of the border system which ultimately brought the government undone.
While the focus ahead of Monday's hearing was on claims and counterclaims of what constituted a medical exemption to enter Australia unvaccinated against COVID-19, the case ultimately turned on a matter of process.
The move to cancel Djokovic's visa was "unreasonable", Judge Kelly's verdict read, because Djokovic wasn't afforded a proper opportunity to respond after officials issued a notice of their intention to cancel his visa in the early hours of last Thursday morning.
Rules are rules, especially when it comes to natural justice.
That no ruling was made on the legitimacy of Djokovic's exemption creates the awkward possibility that the 34-year-old could win this month's Australian Open when he shouldn't be in the country at all.
The judgment leaves the Morrison government forced to pick between bad options.
The government could dig in and deport Djokovic, re-affirming its tough border stance at the expense of inflaming international outrage and likely damaging Australia's reputation as a host of global sporting events.
Alternatively, it could relent and allow Djokovic to contest the Australian Open.
In that scenario, everything Djokovic does over the next three weeks would serve as a reminder of the government's capitulation.
It will dishearten many to think that Djokovic could emerge the winner out of all of this.
This is a man who appears to have knowingly attended a children's tennis event, maskless, while infected with COVID-19 in December last year.
Let's not forget that Djokovic could have avoided this drama by simply getting vaccinated.
Tennis Australia and the Victorian government could have avoided this by refusing to grant medical exemptions, accepting such a stance would mean the tournament was played without arguably its biggest star.
But they didn't.
So here we are.
A mess of monumental proportions, played out for all the world to see.
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