World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has landed in Serbia with video showing him looking glum as fans waited to show him support.
Tennis world number one Novak Djokovic arrived back home in Belgrade after his deportation from Australia over his coronavirus vaccination status demolished his dream of earning a record 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
The 20-time grand slam champion left Melbourne late on Sunday night after his legal team failed to overturn Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel his visa.
The Serb briefly had a stopover in Dubai and then landed at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport where he was whisked away through a side exit shortly after arriving, according to two separate sources at the airport.
“He’s already left through another door,” a security guard told reporters.
A second airport employee also confirmed that Djokovic had arrived but had left through a “technical exit”.
A small group of fans waited outside the arrivals’ area to welcome Djokovic as he arrived, with some waving Serbian flags and another holding a sign that said “Novak, God bless you”.
“Novak is the number one for us and for the world. Whether he wins or loses, we support him,” said Djurdja Avramov as she stood with her child who wore a homemade shirt that read “Nole” – Djokovic’s popular nickname in Serbia.
“What they have done to him is shameful. I love him and I came to greet him. I am 71 years old and my foot hurts, but I came anyway,” said retiree Dragica, who did not give her last name.
Earlier, Djokovic, looked forlorn wearing a mask as he was pictured under AFP escort at Melbourne Airport.
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With passport in hand, Djokovic walked through the airport alongside coach Goran Ivanisevic and other members of his team.
He took photos with fans, asking one of his fellow travellers, “How are you?”
But when someone off-camera asked him about the three-year ban from Australia, he remained silent. Someone in his team was overheard saying, “Please, please.”
The dramatic deportation followed a protracted and high-stakes legal battle between the unvaccinated Djokovic and the Australian authorities that polarised opinion and tarnished reputations on both sides.
Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” after a Federal Court unanimously upheld the cancellation of his visa on public order grounds.
“I’d like to make a brief statement to address the outcomes of today’s Court hearing,” he said in a statement. “I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this.
“I am extremely disappointed with the ruling to dismiss my application for judicial review of the decision to cancel my visa, which means I cannot stay in Australia and participate in the Australian Open. I respect the Court’s ruling and I’ll co-operate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from Aus.
“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 tournament I love. I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.
“Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me.”
Djokovic now faces a possible three-year ban from Australia, where he was won nine of his 20 grand slam titles — a tally that equals the all-time record alongside Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is wrestling with record coronavirus numbers, said “there was a very clear message sent”.
But he hinted that Djokovic could be allowed to return within three years “in the right circumstances”.
“It (the ban) does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for them to return in the right circumstances and that would be considered at the time,” he said in a radio interview.
The ATP — the governing body of men’s tennis — also released a statement following Djokovic’s deportation, which read: “Today’s decision to uphold Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa cancellation marks the end of a deeply regrettable series of events.
“Ultimately, decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected. More time is required to take stock of the facts and to take the learnings from this situation.
“Irrespective of how this point has been reached, Novak is one of our sport’s greatest champions and his absence from the Australian Open is a loss for the game.
“We know how turbulent the recent days have been for Novak and how much he wanted to defend his title in Melbourne. We wish him well and look forward to seeing him back on court soon.
“ATP continues to strongly recommend vaccination to all players.”
Djokovic was scheduled to get his Australian Open campaign underway at Rod Laver Arena on Monday evening, but world No. 150 Salvatore Caruso has replaced him in the men’s singles draw.
— with AFP
Originally published as ‘Shameful’: Novak Djokovic makes sneaky exit after Serbian homecoming