Australia welcome Novak Djokovic with open arms a year after deporting tennis star
He may have been kicked out of the country 12 months ago but Australia gave Novak Djokovic a warm welcome on his return to tennis Down Under at the Adelaide International on Monday.
The crowd chanted his name as he made his way out onto court and overwhelmingly supported him and doubles partner Vasek Pospisil against Tomislav Brkic and Gonzalo Escobar.
And although Djokovic and Pospisil lost 4-6, 6-3, 10-5 to the unseeded pair, the Serb world No5 stayed behind after the match to sign autographs for his legion of Australian fans.
The 35-year-old is also playing the singles competition in Adelaide this week as part of his preparations for the Australian Open later this month.
Djokovic will be aiming to win the Melbourne Grand Slam for the 10th time and draw level with Rafael Nadal’s record 22 major titles, having been deprived of the chance to play last year.
He was dramatically expelled from the country in January 2022 after failing to convince Australian officials that he qualified for an exemption from Covid-19 vaccination.
Djokovic was forced to spend five days in a detention centre while launching a legal bid to stay before eventually being deported and banned from the country for three years.
That ban was overturned in November, however – despite the player remaining unvaccinated against Covid-19 – following a change of government in Australia earlier last year.
Reflecting on the ordeal last week, he said: “You can’t forget those events. It’s something I have never experienced before and hopefully never again but it is a valuable life experience for me and something that will stay there. But I have to move on.”
Djokovic’s decision not to be vaccinated may yet prevent him playing other Grand Slams, though, including the US Open.
American officials ruled last year that he did not meet the strict criteria for an exemption to the country’s vaccination policy and the rules have only tightened since, following renewed outbreaks in China.