The day after Novak Djokovic’s deportation: Australian Open facing backlash of its own making

For all that the full force of Australian bureaucracy has derailed Novak Djokovic’s progress to a record 21st major title, it has also unwittingly made him a martyr. The Serbian ultras who turned up here wearing “greatest of all time” T-shirts, adorned with a silhouette of the world No 1 wearing a crown, barely scratched the surface of the rage. It was left to his compatriots in the locker room to express the smouldering resentments at his deportation.

Laslo Djere, formerly Djokovic’s protege, did not temper his disgust, describing the situation as “catastrophic”. With the first day of this Australian Open eclipsed by the nine-time champion’s humiliating departure from Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport, flanked by border force officials after a federal court upheld a decision to cancel his visa for a second time, the 26-year-old claimed that the spectacle would make all players, Serbian or otherwise, revise their perceptions of the country.

“To tell you the truth, not just Serbians, I think the whole world saw it and they will probably have a new or different opinion about Australia,” said Djere, Djokovic’s former protege. “I mean, the guy had an exemption, and they still deported him. He’s not vaccinated, but we were told we could enter the country with an exemption, which he had, and yet he’s not here with us. Something went horribly wrong. It was a truly catastrophic situation.”

Despite Djokovic’s stellar record at Melbourne Park, and his attempts to cultivate an enduring relationship with audiences here, he had, in Djere’s view, been abandoned by the Australian public. “He’s a great guy and always tries to help others, but most of the Australian people wanted him to leave,” Djere argued. “Two years ago, when there were the bushfires, he donated a good amount of money, and now here in Australia everyone just turned their backs on him.”

For all the expectation that the Serbian-Australian community would stage mass protests at the tournament, the mood among Djokovic supporters was one of weary bitterness at their idol’s fate. A few of those watching Dusan Lajovic’s victory over Marton Fucsovics draped themselves in Serbian flags, still absorbing the significance of Djokovic’s ejection and the possibility that he could be banned from Australia for three years.

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