Tennis star Novak Djokovic returned to his native Serbia on Monday after losing an appeal to stay in Australia, which deported him for being unvaccinated for COVID-19.
The world’s No. 1-ranked male tennis player arrived at Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Airport where sources told the media he was escorted through a “technical exit.”
A small group of fans waited outside the arrivals area, some shouting, “You are our champion!” while others waved Serbian flags. One fan held a sign that said, “Novak, God bless you.”
The 34-year-old tennis champion landed in Melbourne on January 5 hoping to compete in the Australian Open for his 21st major tennis title. His unvaccinated status violated Australia’s immigration rules, but he was granted a medical waiver from two independent health panels set up by the Victoria state government and Australian tennis authorities. Djokovic had been infected with the coronavirus in December.
But Border Force officials canceled his visa, and he was sent to an immigration detention hotel in Melbourne. His visa was reinstated by an Australian judge a week ago but was revoked a second time on Friday by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who said Djokovic’s presence in the country would stir anti-vaccination sentiment.
The tennis champion’s lawyers insisted the government’s argument was irrational and illogical, but three federal court judges unanimously disagreed and dismissed Djokovic’s appeal.
Djokovic has won the Australian Open title nine times. Had he triumphed at this year’s tournament, his 21 grand slam victories would have made him the most successful men’s champion of all time.
Before he left Australia, he said in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed with the Court ruling” but respected the decision and would “cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country.”
Phil Mercer contributed to this story. Some information came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.