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'You are a king': Djokovic returns to a hero's welcome in Serbia

Novak Djokovic prepares to take his seat on a plane in Dubai. (AP)
Novak Djokovic prepares to take his seat on a plane in Dubai. (AP)

'You are our champion, Novak!' and 'We love you, Nole!' they chanted, using his diminutive name



By Reuters

Published: Mon 17 Jan 2022, 5:28 PM

Novak Djokovic returned to a hero’s welcome in Serbia on Monday after Australia deported the world men’s tennis No. 1 for being unvaccinated against COVID-19, a stance jeopardising his quest for a record 21st Grand Slam title.

Most Australians had wanted him gone, but Serbian supporters waved national flags and lauded him on arrival at Belgrade airport.

“You are our champion, Novak!” and “We love you, Nole!” they chanted, using his diminutive name.

The 34-year-old “King of Melbourne” had won nine previous Australia Opens, is level with Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer on 20 titles, and was top men’s seed for the tournament that got underway on Monday.

But instead of beginning his title defence as scheduled at Melbourne Park, he flew to Belgrade via Dubai after being twice detained in a hotel with asylum-seekers and then unceremoniously booted out by Australian immigration.

“Whoever wins it now, doesn’t really count,” said Alek Drakoo, a member of the Australian Serbian community, disappointed to miss seeing him in Melbourne.

The Australian government’s decision was in tune with majority public opinion, but authorities have been criticised for not resolving the issue before he arrived.

“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 the tournament I love,” Djokovic said, expressing disappointment but respect for a court decision against him.


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