BELGRADE, Serbia — Novak Djokovic, undone in his quest for a 10th Australian Open tennis championship by his resolution to stay unvaccinated in opposition to Covid-19, returned on Monday to the nice and cozy embrace of his house nation of Serbia at the same time as his future in the game was shrouded in uncertainty.
He landed in Belgrade a day after being deported from Australia following a decision by the Australian authorities to revoke his visa out of concern that he would possibly encourage anti-vaccination sentiment.
As he slipped out a non-public exit at Nikola Tesla International Airport in Belgrade to keep away from a crowd of ready reporters, almost two weeks of authorized wrangling, political posturing and intense media focus got here to a quite subdued finish.
The few dozen supporters who made their method to the airport waved flags, chanted their assist for Mr. Djokovic and complained that their hero had been mistreated.
One of them, Simon Avramov, got here along with his spouse and two babies.
“The world could not let someone from this small country be a champion,” he stated.
But if Mr. Djokovic chooses to stay unvaccinated, it won’t simply be Australia the place he might need hassle taking part in. His quest to win a file 21st Grand Slam title could possibly be in jeopardy, as different nations even have guidelines on permitting in vacationers who’re unvaccinated.
The swirling drama in Australia — which transcended the world of sport because it grew to become half of a broader debate about civil liberties and collective accountability — could be solely the first chapter in the tennis star’s saga.
The French Open is the following main event on the calendar, due to begin in May, and France’s sports activities ministry stated on Monday it might not grant exemptions to its newest guidelines on vaccine passes, which it famous utilized to skilled gamers in addition to spectators.
But a event consultant additionally stated the state of affairs would possibly change earlier than the occasion was held.
In Australia, the place Mr. Djokovic has been the dominant pressure for the previous decade, he will not be allowed again for 3 years.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison advised an Australian radio station on Monday that Mr. Djokovic could be allowed to enter sooner beneath the “right circumstances.”
The minister for house affairs, Karen Andrews, stated she had not dominated out an exemption.
“Any application will be reviewed on its merits,” she stated.
Mr. Djokovic had introduced proof when he first landed in Australia that he was exempt from the nation’s vaccination mandate as a result of he had been beforehand contaminated with the virus.
As quickly as he landed, nonetheless, his visa was challenged by border brokers after which revoked by the federal government. Mr. Djokovic appealed that call, and a courtroom dominated in his favor.
The Novak Djokovic Standoff With Australia
But simply 4 days later, the Australian authorities revoked his visa once more. This time, the federal government didn’t problem Mr. Djokovic’s visa on technical grounds.
Instead, it argued that his resolution to stay unvaccinated was in itself a hazard since it would encourage others to resist inoculation.
On Sunday, the courtroom discovered in the federal government’s favor, and inside hours Mr. Djokovic had left the nation, touring first to Dubai after which onto Belgrade.
While he was in midflight, the very best skyscraper in downtown Belgrade was illuminated in his honor.
“Nole, you are the pride of Serbia,” it stated, utilizing the affectionate nickname for the tennis star.
In Serbia, the place vaccine skepticism runs deep, even those that don’t agree along with his resolution to stay unvaccinated say he has been treated badly.
Mr. Djokovic supplied no public remark upon returning house. In an announcement after the courtroom ruling, he stated he was uncomfortable with all the general public consideration on him and needed the main target to return to tennis.
As he landed in Belgrade, the event in Melbourne was simply getting underway. Without its reigning champion.