Novak Djokovic returning to Serbia following deportation from Australia – as Australian Open gets under way

The tennis star left Australia after losing his final bid to avoid deportation and play in the Australian Open despite being unvaccinated for COVID-19.

Novak Djokovic is returning to his home country of Serbia after three judges in Australia upheld the government’s cancellation of his visa and his deportation.

The Serbian tennis player was seen boarding an Emirates flight bound for Dubai from Melbourne just hours after the court ruling, which capped a two-week drama over his decision not to be vaccinated against corona virus.

The plane touched down after a 13-and-a-half hour flight, and a few hours later he was seen on a flight heading to the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

It came as the Australian Open in Melbourne got under way without him.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he had spoken to the player earlier and told him “we can’t wait to see him in Serbia, to return to his country, to come where he is always welcome”.

The three judges upheld the visa cancellation on public interest grounds – meaning he could not defend his Australian Open title – a tournament he has won nine times.

In a statement following the court’s decision, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed with the ruling” and he would be “taking some time to rest and to recuperate”.

He added: “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 tournament I love.”

The full reasons behind the unanimous ruling will be published in the “coming days”, with Djokovic also ordered to pay the government’s court costs.

His visa was revoked for a second time on Friday after immigration minister Alex Hawke said the Serbian’s presence in Australia posed a public health risk.

The minister argued that Djokovic risked whipping up anti-vaccination sentiment and causing civil unrest during Australia’s worst outbreak of COVID since the pandemic began.

Following Sunday’s hearing, Mr Hawke said he welcomed the ruling to uphold his decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa “in the public interest”.

“Australians have made great sacrifices to get to this point and the Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting this position, as the Australian people expect,” he added.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison also welcomed the Federal Court’s ruling, saying the decision will help “keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe”.

But he has left the door open for Djokovic to compete at next year’s Australian Open, despite the tennis star facing an automatic three-year ban from entering the country.

“I’m not going to pre-condition any of that or say anything that would not enable the minister to make the various calls he has to make,” Mr Morrison told 2GB radio on Monday.

“It does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for (a person) to return in the right circumstances, and that will be considered at the time.”

Mr Vucic expressed disappointment at the ruling, and accused the Australian government of “harassing” Djokovic. The Serbian Tennis Association said the “farce is over” and “politics has beaten sports” with Australia’s decision to deport Djokovic.

The court saga follows the controversial decision to grant Djokovic an exemption from COVID vaccination requirements to play at the Australian Open.

Lawyers for the world number one player had said a corona virus infection last month meant he could legally enter the country. Djokovic first had his visa revoked on arrival in Melbourne, but he won a court appeal against that cancellation, which allowed him to remain in Australia.

He later acknowledged that his travel declaration was incorrect because it failed to indicate that he had been in multiple countries in the two-week period before his arrival in Australia.

Djokovic also admitted being interviewed in person by a journalist from a French magazine in December, even though he had tested positive for COVID the day before.

Djokovic’s absence ‘a loss for the game’

British tennis star Andy Murray, who has known Djokovic since childhood, described the situation as “a s***show”.

Reacting to the court ruling, he told the BBC: “The situation has not been good all round for anyone.

“Hopefully, from all sides, from the tournament and from Novak, we can make sure this doesn’t happen at any other tournaments and that something is in place ahead of time.”

The ATP, the governing body of men’s tennis, described the saga as a “deeply regrettable series of events” and said Djokovic’s absence was “a loss for the game”.

“Ultimately, decisions of legal authorities regarding matters of public health must be respected,” it added.

“ATP continues to strongly recommend vaccination to all players.”

Source : sky news