Thursday, May 26, 2022

Tennis star Djokovic returns to Serbia after exile from Australia

Tennis star Novak Djokovic returned to his native Serbia on Monday after losing a stay-at-home appeal in Australia, which saw him deported for being unrelated to COVID-19.

The world’s No. 1 male tennis player arrived at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport, where sources told the media that he was taken through a “technical exit”.

A small group of fans waited outside the arrivals area, some shouting, “You are our champion!” While others waved Serbian flags. One fan had a sign in his hand that read, “Novak, God bless you.”

The 34-year-old tennis champion arrived in Melbourne on January 5, hoping to compete at the Australian Open for her 21st major tennis title. His unaffiliated status violated Australia’s immigration rules, but he was granted a medical exemption from two independent health panels set up by the Victoria state government and the Australian tennis authorities. Djokovic was infected with the coronavirus in December.

Fans wave the Serbian flag as Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic arrives at Nikola Tesla Airport on January 17, 2022 in Belgrade, Serbia.

But Border Force officials canceled his visa, and he was sent to an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne. His visa was reinstated a week ago by an Australian judge, but was revoked for a second time on Friday by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who said Djokovic’s presence in the country would stimulate anti-vaccination sentiment.

Lawyers for the tennis champion insisted that the government’s argument was irrational and illogical, but three federal court judges unanimously disagreed and dismissed Djokovic’s appeal.

Djokovic has won the Australian Open title nine times. Had he won this year’s tournament, his 21 Grand Slam victories would have made him the most successful men’s champion of all time.

Before leaving Australia, he said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed with the court’s decision” but respected the decision and “will cooperate with the relevant authorities regarding my departure from the country.”

Phil Mercer contributed to this story. Some information has come from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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