Serbians dismayed as Novak Djokovic’s visa again revoked in Australia

Djokovic is the defending champion in his first Grand Slam of the season and has won nine of his 20 major titles at Melbourne Park.

Supporters of Serbia's Novak Djokovic wave Russian, right-wing and Serbian flags during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, January 8, 2022.
Novak Djokovic’s supporters in Serbia were horrified on Friday after they woke up to the news that the top-ranked tennis player once again faced deportation from Australia after his visa was revoked for the second time. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Djokovic initially refused to say whether he had been vaccinated against the coronavirus, but he was granted an exemption from Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccination regulations to enter the country the first time. He said this week that he is not vaccinated.

If deported, Djokovic will likely return to Serbia, where his story has captured the public and where he enjoys semi-symbolic stature and overwhelming support.

Serbian defending champion Novak Djokovic trains at the Margaret Court Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, January 13, 2022.
Australia’s immigration minister used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds – just three days before he starts playing at the Australian Open (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

“I’m agitated. I’m angry because I didn’t expect them to treat the best tennis player in the world like that,” said Mila Alexic, a Belgrade resident.

“I think he does not deserve it, especially since he represents our country and he is the number 1 tennis player and the whole world knows him as such. I think he does not deserve to be treated that way.”

Djokovic’s former coach and mentor, Niki Bilic, described the situation as “shameful” and said Djokovic was being treated as a “criminal”.

“People don’t understand what it means to be a world champion, and what kind of strength, will and morale is required,” Bilic said.

“It’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t play the Australian Open… He will play in other tournaments.”

No matter what, said Nebojsa Kovic, a former politician and now owner of Red Star Belgrade basketball club, the controversy has made Djokovic a “symbol of the free world”.

“He is a world star and a beacon for free men,” Kovic told Brava TV. “Basic human rights are being violated.”

“Djokovic is the moral winner of the tournament in Australia.”

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