Warm welcome as Djokovic returns home to Serbia as French Open appearance now in doubt

Glenn MooreAAP
VideoDjokovic back in Serbia after deportation

Novak Djokovic has kept a low profile as he returned to the place where he will always be welcome following his deportation from Australia.

A small but noisy band of supporters were at Belgrade airport to greet the world No.1 on Monday lunchtime.

However, they saw little of the 34-year-old as the Serbian hero was whisked through passport control and customs, then driven by his brother Djordje to his apartment in Belgrade.

The official Tanjug news agency reported that Djokovic’s mother, Dijana, said her son will remain in Belgrade in the coming days and won’t make statements for the media.

“God bless you Novak,” read one of the banners held by fans at Nikola Tesla Airport who chanted “You are our champion!” and, using the diminutive of his name, “We love you, Nole!”

Fans of Novak Djokovic
Camera IconFans of Novak Djokovic welcomed him at Belgrade airport after his deportation from Australia. Credit: EPA

“Novak, welcome home, you know that we all support you here,” said Snezana Jankovic, a Belgrade resident. “They can take away your visa, but they cannot take away your Serbian pride.”

“I think he entered history as a hero, as a man and as a fighter against this evil which is called corona-circus,” added Marko Strugalovic, 60, at Belgrade airport.

Earlier Djokovic had worn a mask and accepted selfies with fans as he arrived in Dubai en route from Melbourne, changing planes for the six-hour flight to Belgrade.

Djokovic had tested positive for COVID-19 in Belgrade on December 16 but attended an interview with L’Equipe newspaper on the 18th, which he later described this “an error” of judgement.

Asked if Djokovic would face any penalties for flouting his isolation while being infected when he returns to Serbia, Serbian officials said he would not because the country is not in a state of emergency.

Novak Djokovic looks as his documents after landing in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022.
Camera IconNovak Djokovic looks as his documents after landing in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Credit: Darko Bandic/AP

However, his unvaccinated status could cause further problems in his pursuit of a record-breaking 21st major after the French sports ministry stated a new law barring unvaccinated people from sports venues, restaurants and other public places will apply to sportsmen too.

That would prevent Djokovic playing at the French Open in May though a spokesperson noted the pandemic situation “could change by then.”

In the meantime Djokovic, who said he would take some time “to rest and to recuperate” is unlikely to play the big ATP tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami in March because of the United States’ tight restrictions.

His participation in the Monaco Open in April, the first event of Europe’s clay-court swing, would also be in danger since the tournament actually takes place in France. The Monte Carlo Country Club is 150m outside the Principality in the French commune of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

More long-term Djokovic is in principle now barred from entry to Australia for three years having had his visa revoked.

Djokovic was greeted by many fans after being deported from Australia. Picture: Loren Elliott/Reuters
Camera IconDjokovic was greeted by many fans after being deported from Australia. Loren Elliott/Reuters Credit: News Corp Australia Sports Newsroom

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted there may be a way to let him in next year.

“There is the opportunity for (a person) to return in the right circumstances, and that will be considered at the time,” he told 2GB radio.

Back in Melbourne the Australian Open began without its defending champion.

Rafael Nadal, the only player left in the draw to have previously won the men’s singles title, said, “I wish him all the best. I think the situation has been a mess.

“If the best players are on court and playing it is best for the sport. On a personal level I would like to see him playing here, if it is fair or not is another discussion.”

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