‘You are a king’: deported Djokovic welcomed in Serbia

World men’s tennis number one Novak Djokovic was greeted as a hero on Monday in Serbia, after Australia deported him for not being vaccinated against COVID-19, a situation that complicated his quest for a record 21 Grand Slams.
Most Australians wanted him to leave, but his Serbian supporters waved national flags and cheered him on arrival at Belgrade airport.
“You are our champion, Novak!” and “We love you, Nole!” they chanted, using their diminutive.
The 34-year-old “King of Melbourne” has won the Australian Open nine times, is tied with 20 Grand Slams with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer and was the first seed for the tournament that began on Monday.
However, instead of starting his title defence at Melbourne Park, he flew to Belgrade via Dubai after being detained twice in a hotel with asylum seekers and then expelled by Australian immigration authorities.
“The Australian Open has lost 100% of its value. It doesn’t really matter who wins it now, because Djokovic is number one. He’s the man, you have to beat him to win it,” said Alek Drakoo, a member of the Australian Serb community, disappointed not to see him play in Melbourne.
The Australian government’s decision is in line with most public opinion, but the authorities were criticized for not resolving the issue before their arrival.
“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the last few weeks has been on me and I hope we can all focus now on the sport and tournament I love,” Djokovic said in a statement, expressing his disappointment but respect for the court decision against him.
Under Australian law, Djokovic cannot receive another visa for three years, unless the minister responsible for immigration accepts that there are compelling or compassionate reasons.
However, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted that there might be a way to allow Djokovic to play next year.
“There is a possibility that (a person) will come back in the right circumstances, and that will be considered in due course,” he told 2GB radio on Monday.
For its part, France said Djokovic will not be able to play at Roland Garros in May as it is now, due to a new mobility law with vaccines.
“This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or professional athlete,” the ministry said in a statement, adding, however, that the pandemic situation could change by then. “We’ll see, but it’s clear that there is no exemption.”
The Australian Federal Court that ruled in favor of maintaining the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa – initially granted with a medical exception because he had recently had COVID-19 – upset his family and his followers, who portray him as a persecuted.
“I think he entered history as a hero, as a man and a fighter against this so-called coronacirco,” Marko Strugalovic, 60, said at Belgrade airport. “Nole, you are a king, you are an emperor, Nole is the greatest legend walking on earth, he is a living saint.”
Djokovic wore a mask and took selfies with fans upon arrival in Dubai from Melbourne, before taking a vehicle from the terminal to the gate for a six-hour flight to Belgrade. Once at home, he avoided fans and the media and went straight to his luxury apartment in the Novi Beograd neighborhood.
Spain’s Nadal said the tournament won’t be the same without his big rival. “If Novak Djokovic played here it would be better for everyone, without a doubt,” he told the media after beating American Marcos Giron 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to advance to the second round.

Original source in Spanish

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