Crowds gather to greet deported Djokovic as he returns to Serbia (VIDEO)
Serbian tennis icon Novak Djokovic has arrived back in his homeland after being ordered to leave Australia. A crowd of fans gathered to greet Djokovic upon his return, following a fraught fortnight Down Under.
Djokovic touched down in Belgrade on Monday shortly after midday local time after traveling from Melbourne via Dubai.
It was an early return for the 34-year-old after he was deported from Australia following defeat in his last-ditch legal battle to remain in the country on Sunday.
Supporters gathered at Belgrade Airport to show support for their hero, with many waving Serbian flags and chanting.
Some said they had traveled from other parts of the country to be there for Djokovic’s arrival, while there was also a large media presence.
Djokovic did not emerge to greet the crowds but was filmed making his way into the airport terminal.
In stark contrast to much of the mood in Australia, Djokovic has received staunch backing in his homeland throughout his visa ordeal.
Skyscrapers were illuminated in the Serbian capital bearing his nickname 'Nole' in his honor on Sunday.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the 20-time Grand Slam winner – who is unvaccinated but had arrived in Melbourne with a medical exemption to compete – has been made a scapegoat by Australia for political purposes.
“We can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome,” Vucic had said after confirmation that Djokovic was being deported.
“They think they humiliated Djokovic with this, the best player in the world, by the ten-day harassment, they humiliated themselves and Djokovic can return to his country with his head high up and look everyone in the eye.”
Djokovic himself said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed” by the ruling of a federal court to back Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel his visa, but added he would respect the decision.
Djokovic could face a three-year ban from Australia, but in more immediate terms the step by the authorities means he has been denied the opportunity to defend his title in Melbourne, where the Serb is a nine-time champion and winner of the last three editions in a row of the tournament.
The world number one also misses out on the opportunity to win an all-time record 21st Grand Slam accolade.
In further developments on Monday, Djokovic’s participation at the second Major of the season at Roland-Garros was cast into uncertainty after France approved new Covid vaccine pass measures.