Accessibility links

Breaking News

Djokovic Lands In Belgrade After Deportation From Australia, With Another Slam Now In Doubt


Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (right) arrives at Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade on January 17.
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (right) arrives at Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade on January 17.

BELGRADE -- World tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic has arrived in his native Serbia after being deported from Australia because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19, putting an end to his hopes of defending his Australian Open title.

On January 17, an aircraft carrying Djokovic from his stopover in the United Arab Emirates touched down at Belgrade’s airport, where he was greeted by a small group of fans waving the Serbian flag.

The Australian Open started on the same day in Melbourne, where Djokovic has won nine titles.

He had hoped this year to win his 21st Grand Slam singles trophy there, breaking the record he shares with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis.

Djokovic left Melbourne after Australia's Federal Court upheld a decision by Australian authorities to cancel the visa of the 34-year-old Serbian athlete on public interest grounds because he is not vaccinated for COVID-19.

Djokovic had tried to use a medical exemption to get around the requirements that everyone at the Australian Open -- players, their support teams, spectators, and others -- be vaccinated.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the court ruling will help "keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe."

Djokovic said he was "extremely disappointed" by the decision, while Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic accused Australian authorities of "harassing and bullying...the best tennis player ever."

The men's tennis governing body ATP expressed regret that Djokovic -- "one of [the] sport's greatest champions"-- can't play at the Australian tournament, while also pointing out that it "continues to strongly recommend vaccination to all players."

But even as he flew home, signs emerged that Djokovic might face further obstacles on the tennis circuit.

Multiple officials in France, which hosts the calendar year's second Grand Slam, suggested that they might also bar any unvaccinated athletes from competing at Roland Garros in Paris in May and June.

That would contradict previous plans to create a "bubble" around the French Open to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among athletes, coaches, organizers, and fans.

"To do your job, to come for pleasure or leisure, to practice a sport, it will be necessary to present a [proof of] vaccine," French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu told BFM television. "This will be valid for people who live in France but also for foreigners who come to our country for vacation or for a major sports competition."

French lawmaker Christophe Castaner said that new legislation in the works to limit access of the unvaccinated to stadiums will apply to anyone who wants to play in the French Open.

But details of the French bill reportedly must still be worked out, including for people who have recently recovered from COVID-19, as Djokovic claimed when he applied for an exemption to travel to Melbourne.

French President Emmanuel Macron famously said recently he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated in an effort to boost vaccination levels as France battles a new wave of coronavirus infection fueled by the omicron variant.

With reporting by AP

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.