- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Novak Djokovic has landed in Serbia after being deported from Australia after failing to overturn the decision to cancel his visa over his lack of COVID-19 vaccination.
The current world number one landed in Belgrade shortly after 12pm local time.
People gathered outside the airport chanting his name and waving Serbian flags as they waited for him to leave the airport.
"You are our champion, Novak!" some shouted.
Djokovic landed in Australia on 5 January, and despite believing he had clearance to enter the country, was held by border authorities.
Since then, he won an appeal to remain in the country and compete, but immigration minister Alex Hawke re-cancelled Djokovic’s visa on Friday using personal powers.
The decision means the nine-time Australian Open champion will not defend his title in Melbourne, which started a little more than 12 hours after he left the country.
In a statement following the court's decision, Djokovic said he was "extremely disappointed with the ruling" and he would be "taking some time to rest and to recuperate".
He added: "I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love."
Hawke’s decision was unexpectedly based not on the validity or otherwise of Djokovic’s exemption from COVID-19 vaccination, which was the reason for the initial cancellation, but on the notion his presence in the country could stoke anti-vaccination sentiment, making him a danger to public health, as well as civil unrest.
The decision means the player also been banned from Australia for three years, although this could be waived.
Djokovic’s continued resistance to being vaccinated against COVID-19 is fast emerging as the biggest threat to his quest to firmly establish himself as the most successful male player of all time.
It throws into doubt the possibility of Djokovic winning his 21st Grand Slam, if he isn't vaccinated by the time the French Open begins in May.
Had he played in Melbourne, he would have been a big favourite to win, which would have moved him clear of his great rivals, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Djokovic has been an outspoken critic of vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic, and said in April 2020 that he is “opposed to vaccination” and “wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel”.
In June he organised an event as sport across the rest of the globe ground to a halt, and was seen partying with other players without wearing a mask.
But part way through, it had to be cancelled after Djokovic himself tested positive for COVID-19, and he issued an apology for organising the event.
Before departing for Australia on 4 January, Djokovic tweeted: “Today I’m heading Down Under with exemption permission. Let’s go 2022."
But it sparked fury from locals in Melbourne, who have been under strict rules and have been subject to six different lockdowns.
After arriving into Australia on 5 January, Djokovic was held in the airport overnight, his visa was cancelled and he was transferred to the Park Hotel in Carlton, a state-run immigration facility that is also used to house asylum seekers.
Djokovic's furious parents claimed their son was being kept inside a dirty "prison" which was riddled with bugs, as tensions between the Australian and Serbian governments rose.
On 10 January Djokovic was give some hope that he would be able to play after a judge quashed the decision to bar him from entering and ordered him to be released immediately.
But two days later, the 34-year-old admitted breaking isolation rules to attend an interview on 18 December – despite having tested positive for COVID the day before.
There were also questions raised about his immigration statement form, which said he had not travelled for two weeks prior before. Djokovic said his agent had made a "human error" when filling out the form.
But ultimately it was decided on 14 January that Djokovic was to have his visa cancelled, after Hawke used his discretionary powers to reimpose the penalty.