Novak Djokovic back in Serbia after deportation from Australia

World No 1 tennis player receives warm welcome upon return from failed bid to play Australian Open

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Hundred of supporters gathered at the Nicola Tesla airport in Belgrade on Monday as Novak Djokovic landed in Serbia following his deportation from Australia.

The world No 1 returned home after failing in his quest to defend the Australian Open title following a long-drawn battle over his visa and vaccination status that saw him being evicted from Australia.

Djokovic left Australia late on Sunday and boarded an Emirates flight to Dubai after the Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa, ending days of drama over the country's Covid-19 entry rules and his unvaccinated status.

The Serbian star was first detained by immigration authorities on January 6, ordered released by a court on January 10 and then detained again on Saturday pending Sunday's court hearing.

By the end, Djokovic said he was extremely disappointed by the ruling but respected the court's decision.

"I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and the tournament I love," Djokovic said in a statement before flying out of Melbourne. He landed in Belgrade after a brief stopover in Dubai.

The 34-year-old received widespread support in his home country, with the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic calling the treatment of a national hero "scandalous".

As he landed in Serbia, supporters - some waving national flags - outside Belgrade airport chanted "You are our champion, Novak!"

However, the tennis star’s exit from Australia might not be the end of the drama as questions arose over whether he would be barred from the next Grand Slam tournament, the French Open.

Djokovic had argued in an Australian court he should be allowed to stay and compete because a recent coronavirus infection meant he was exempt from strict vaccination rules. But Australian authorities cited the public interest in revoking his visa, saying his presence could stir up anti-vaccine sentiments and that kicking him out was necessary to keep Australians safe.

Now there is uncertainty over his participation in Paris. A member of the French Parliament said a new law that will exclude unvaccinated people from sports venues, restaurants and other public places will apply to anyone who wants to play in the tournament.

Their sports ministry said on Monday that there would be no exemption from France's new vaccine pass law.

"The rule is simple. The vaccine pass will be imposed, as soon as the law is promulgated, in establishments that were already subject to the health pass," the ministry said.

"This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice.

"Now, as far as Roland Garros is concerned, it's in May. The situation may change between now and then and we hope that it will be more favourable. So we'll see, but clearly there's no exemption."

The latest developments in France marked a reversal from prior plans to create a “bubble” around the tournament, scheduled for late May into June.

Major events like the French Open previously permitted unvaccinated athletes to compete as they operated a health bubble around the tournament.

If no exemption is possible, the measure would dash the 34-year-old Serb's hopes of defending his French Open title and potentially winning an unprecedented 21st Grand Slam singles crown.

Djokovic's hopes of a Grand Slam success in 2022 would then rest on Wimbledon as New York vaccination rules, as they stand now, would rule him out of the US Open.

For now, Djokovic can look forward to a warm welcome at home.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has accused the Australian government of “harassing” the top-ranked tennis star and urged him to return where he would be welcomed.

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Updated: January 18, 2022, 3:10 AM
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