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'God bless you Novak': Serbia welcomes back Djokovic after Australian visa row
17 January 2022, 14:19 | Updated: 17 January 2022, 14:27
Serbia has welcomed back tennis star Novak Djokovic after he was deported from Australia, following a visa row over his vaccination status.
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The tennis star was prevented from defending his Australian Open tennis title after is was argued that he had been held up as a hero by the anti-vaccine movement.
A plane carrying the number one ranked player touched down in the capital Belgrade on Monday, to only a handful of fans waving the Serbian flag, despite many predicting a hero's welcome.
"God bless you Novak" read one of the banners held by the fans at the airport as he was whisked through passport control and customs and then driven by his brother Djordje to his apartment in Belgrade.
There is uncertainty over what will come next for the player ahead of the French Open, which is the next Grand Slam, in late May.
French official have said a new law requiring vaccination to enter sports venues, restaurants and other public places, would have no exceptions.
Mr Djokovic had argued that he was exempt from strict Australian vaccination rules because he had recently recovered from Covid-19.
But once he arrived in the country, Australian authorities said that exemption was not valid.
They eventually cited the public interest and revoked his visa, saying his presence could stir up anti-vaccine sentiment and that kicking him out was necessary to keep Australians safe.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has accused the Australian government of "harassing" the top-ranked tennis star and urged him to return home.
The legal battle over whether Djokovic held a valid exemption to vaccine rules that would allow him to play in the Australian Open ended on Sunday with his deportation.
Vaccination amid the pandemic is a requirement for anyone at the Australian Open, which started on Monday in Melbourne.
Djokovic has almost an iconic status in Serbia, whose president had called the court hearing in Australia "a farce with a lot of lies".
"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."