Serbia shocked by Australia’s refusal to let Djokovic in

Serbian Novak Djokovic's father, Srdjan, speaks during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, January 6, 2022. Djokovic's father, Srdjan, said he was the victim of a

Serbian Novak Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, speaks during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, January 6, 2022. Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, said he was the victim of a “political agenda” in Australia. The Australian government refused entry for number 1 Novak Djokovic to defend his title in the first major tennis tournament of the year and revoked his visa because he did not meet the conditions for exemption from country’s COVID-19 vaccination rules. (AP Photo / Darko Vojinovic)


Serbia is nervously awaiting the outcome of what increasingly looks like a soap opera with the country’s most famous sports idol in the lead role.

World’s top-ranked men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic faces expulsion from Australia, where he had hoped to win his 21st Grand Slam title at this month’s Australian Open, which would establish the men’s record for major championship wins.

The 34-year-old Serb’s ability to compete in Melbourne and overtake rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has been in limbo since the Australian Border Force canceled Djokovic’s visa because he failed to meet the requirements for an exemption from COVID-19 vaccination. A court hearing on the case has been set for Monday.

Djokovic fans at home are in shock, and Serbian politicians seized the opportunity to increase their popularity ahead of this year’s election as protesters gathered in downtown Belgrade to demand the release of the tennis star.

The populist government of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has summoned the Australian ambassador to protest the “detention” of Djokovic.

Vucic said he spoke to Djokovic and lambasted Australian authorities for keeping the tennis star in an “infamous hotel”, referring to the secure facility where Djokovic is staying with asylum seekers and refugees.

“I’m afraid this hype will continue,” Vucic said. “When you can’t beat someone on the pitch, then you do such things.”

Most Djokovic home fans agree, reflecting the anti-Serbian conspiracy theories that are ubiquitous in the Balkans.

“It is historically obvious that the world has something against the Serbs,” Belgrade resident Darko Ikonic said.

“I’m not saying Serbs are heavenly people or anything similar, it’s nonsense,” he added. “But obviously they don’t want him to be the best tennis player in history because they like other tennis players, like Nadal or Federer, better.

The odds that a player from Serbia, a Balkan country bombed by NATO in 1999 when Djokovic was a boy, economically crippled, with few tennis courts and little tennis pedigree, would become world No.1 were close to zero.

However, Djokovic did, creating a large number of followers in Serbia as well as the neighboring Balkan states although he was heavily criticized abroad for his frequent theatrical scenes and explosions, as well as his approaching the COVID-19 pandemic and refusing to reveal whether or not he has been vaccinated.

He has had a strained relationship with some spectators around the world, perhaps because he is viewed by Federer and Nadal supporters as an intruder, the third member of the sport’s so-called Big Three. He is the youngest of the trio – Federer is 40; Nadal 35 – and arrived after the “federal” rivalry attracted so much attention.

At the start of the 2011 season, Federer had 16 major titles, Nadal nine and Djokovic one. Over the next decade, Djokovic continued to win over them, helped in part by compiling a winning record against each.

And although he tends to hear a lot of support from crowds otherwise, Djokovic always seemed to receive less support when his opponent was Federer or Nadal. In terms of mentions, Djokovic earned less than half of what Federer did from May 2020 to May 2021, according to Forbes.

On and off the pitch, Djokovic says and does whatever he wants, whether it’s his anti-vaccine stance, his attempt to create a player association outside the official channels backed by Nadal and Federer, or the occasional flashes of anger. playing. This included throwing and breaking his racket during the Tokyo Olympics and other games or, most notoriously, when he was disqualified from the 2020 US Open after accidentally hitting a linesman in the throat. with a ball after losing a match.

Amid the pandemic in 2020 and with the closure of professional tennis, Djokovic hosted the Adria Tour, a series of exhibition events without social distancing in his native Serbia and neighboring Croatia.

The tournament was scrapped after several participants tested positive for the coronavirus. Djokovic and his wife Jelena later revealed positive tests.

Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, said Thursday that his son was the symbol of a “free world” and that an attack on him amounted to an attack on Serbia.

He accused Australia and the West in general of “mistreating” Djokovic for being Serbian and referred to the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia on his breakaway province of Kosovo.

“Novak is Serbia and Serbia is Novak,” he said. “They are trampling on Novak and therefore they are trampling on Serbia and the Serbian people.”

“Shame on them, everyone who loves freedom should stand up with Serbia,” said Srdjan Djokovic. “They crucified Jesus and now they are trying to crucify Novak the same way and bring him to his knees.”


Associated Press writer Jovana Gec and AP sports writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.

Naomi C. Amerson