Novak Djokovic back in Serbia amid doubts over his French Open participation

The men's world No.1 tennis player has arrived in Serbia following his deportation from Australia, as France's Sports Ministry says he won't be allowed to play in the French Open unless he's vaccinated.

Novak Djokovic looks as his documents after landing in Belgrade, Serbia following his deportation from Australia.

Novak Djokovic looks as his documents after landing in Belgrade, Serbia following his deportation from Australia. Source: AP

Novak Djokovic could be barred from defending his title at the French Open as things stand now after the Sports Ministry declared there would be no exemption from France's new vaccine pass law.

The men's world No.1 tennis player, who has not been vaccinated against COVID-19, was deported from Australia on Sunday, unable to defend his title at the first grand slam tournament of the year after losing a court case to have the cancellation of his visa overturned.

The French Open is next on the grand slam calendar.

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But France's vaccine pass law, approved by parliament on Sunday, will require people to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places such as restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains.

"The rule is simple. The vaccine pass will be imposed, as soon as the law is promulgated, in establishments that were already subject to the health pass," the ministry said.

"This will apply to everyone who is a spectator or a professional sportsperson. And this until further notice.

"Now, as far as Roland Garros is concerned, it's in May. The situation may change between now and then and we hope that it will be more favourable. So we'll see, but clearly there's no exemption."

In the meantime, Djokovic, who said he would take some time "to rest and to recuperate" is unlikely to play the big ATP tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami in March because of the United States' tight restrictions.
Novak Djokovic plays a backhand during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on 14 January 2022.
Novak Djokovic plays a backhand during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on 14 January 2022. Source: Getty Images AsiaPac


His participation in the Monaco Open in April, the first event of Europe's clay-court swing, would also be in danger since the tournament actually takes place in France. The Monte Carlo Country Club is 150 metres outside the Principality in the French commune of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

Hero's welcome

Novak Djokovic has kept a low profile as he returned to the place where he will always be welcome following his deportation from Australia.

A small but noisy band of supporters were at Belgrade airport to greet him on Monday lunchtime.

However, they saw little of the 34-year-old as the Serbian hero was whisked through passport control and customs, then driven by his brother Djordje to his apartment in Belgrade.

The official Tanjug news agency reported that Djokovic's mother, Dijana, said her son will remain in Belgrade in the coming days and won't make statements for the media.

"God bless you Novak," read one of the banners held by fans at Nikola Tesla Airport who chanted "You are our champion!" and, using the diminutive of his name, "We love you, Nole!"

"Novak, welcome home, you know that we all support you here," said Snezana Jankovic, a Belgrade resident. "They can take away your visa, but they cannot take away your Serbian pride."
Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic gather at the Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade, Serbia, 17 January 2022.
Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic gather at the Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade, Serbia, 17 January 2022. Source: EPA


"I think he entered history as a hero, as a man and as a fighter against this evil which is called corona-circus," added Marko Strugalovic, 60, at Belgrade airport.

Earlier Djokovic had worn a mask and accepted selfies with fans as he arrived in Dubai en route from Melbourne, changing planes for the six-hour flight to Belgrade.

Djokovic had tested positive for COVID-19 in Belgrade on 16 December but attended an interview with L'Equipe newspaper on the 18th, which he later described this "an error" of judgement.

Asked if Djokovic would face any penalties for flouting his isolation while being infected when he returns to Serbia, Serbian officials said he would not because the country is not in a state of emergency.

More long-term Djokovic is in principle now barred from entry to Australia for three years having had his visa revoked.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted there may be a way to let him in next year.

"There is the opportunity for (a person) to return in the right circumstances, and that will be considered at the time," he told 2GB radio.



Back in Melbourne, the Australian Open began without its defending champion.

Rafael Nadal, the only player left in the draw to have previously won the men's singles title, said, "I wish him all the best. I think the situation has been a mess.

"If the best players are on court and playing it is best for the sport. On a personal level I would like to see him playing here, if it is fair or not is another discussion."


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4 min read
Published 18 January 2022 at 6:25am
Source: AAP, SBS