A colourful homecoming awaited the tennis star at Belgrade airport, ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott reports
Novak Djokovic has landed in his native Serbia after his visa to Australia was cancelled on the grounds his presence in Australia may be a risk to health.
The top-ranked male tennis player, who is not vaccinated against Covid, is expected to be greeted by a warm welcome across the country after failing in his arguments for an exemption to compete in the Austalian Open.
The Grand Slam tournament started on Monday in Melbourne, where Djokovic has won nine titles.
He had hoped this year to win his 21st Grand Slam singles trophy there, breaking the record he shares with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis.
Even as he flew home from Australia, doubts arose over whether Djokovic would be able to play in the French Open.
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.
The comments on Monday from Christophe Castaner and a tweet from the sports minister late on Sunday marked a reversal from prior plans to create a “bubble” around the tournament, scheduled for late May into June.
France’s sports ministry said on Monday once the new law is in place, there will be no exceptions until further notice.
For now, Djokovic can expect a happy welcome home, with overwhelming support in his Serbia where his closest family lives.
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.
Djokovic’s attempt to get the medical exemption for not being vaccinated sparked anger in Australia, where strict lockdowns in cities and curbs on international travel have been employed to try to control the spread of the virus since the outbreak began.
He tested positive in Belgrade on December 16, but received the result late on December 17, he said, and scrapped all his commitments except a long-standing interview with L’Equipe newspaper the following day. He later described this as “an error” of judgment.
Asked if Djokovic would face any penalties for flouting his isolation while being infected when he returns to his home country, Serbian officials said he would not because the country is not in a state of emergency.
Djokovic has almost an iconic status in Serbia, whose president had called the court hearing in Australia "a farce with a lot of lies."
"They think that they humiliated Djokovic with this ten-day harassment, and they actually humiliated themselves. If you said that the one who was not vaccinated has no right to enter, Novak would not come or would be vaccinated," Vucic said.