Novak Djokovic has described his detention and deportation from Australia – which prevented him from defending his Australian Open title – as an “unfortunate event” and thanked the Serbian president for his support.
An 11-day saga over Djokovic’s entry visa ended with the Serb being deported on the eve of the Melbourne grand slam for failing to meet Australia’s strict COVID vaccination requirements.
Djokovic arrived home in Belgrade about a fortnight ago, and has made several visits to churches and been seen on the practice court since.
But a meeting on Thursday (local time) was the first time he had spoken publicly about his treatment in Australia. He described events in Melbourne as “unexpected, to say the least”.
“I wanted to meet with you today because, primarily as a citizen of Serbia, I felt a great need to thank you for great support that you, as the president of Serbia, gave me, as well as all state institutions during the unfortunate events in Australia,” Djokovic said.
“Although I was alone in detention, and faced with many problems and challenges, I wasn’t feeling lonely. I had huge support primarily from my family, all of the close people in my life, entire Serbian nation, many people with good intentions from the region and the world.”
He did not speak about details of the events in Australia, promising to give his “version” later.
The meeting came a day after Serbia’s state prosecutors rejected suggestions from some foreign media that Djokovic used a fake positive test for COVID-19 to try to enter Australia.
To enter Australia, Djokovic submitted a positive test issued in Serbia on December 16 for a visa exemption on the grounds that he had recently recovered from the virus.
He is not vaccinated and the Australian government later decided to cancel his visa and deport Djokovic, saying his presence in Australia could stir anti-vaccination sentiments.
Djokovic’s rival, Rafael Nadal, won the Australian Open for a record 21st men’s grand slam singles title.
Djokovic and another great rival, Roger Federer, each have 20 major titles.
Mr Vucic praised Djokovic and said he was certain he would beat Nadal and Federer at the coming French Open and Wimbledon. But both of those grand slams also have restrictions for unvaccinated players.
Djokovic’s biographer, Daniel Muksch, claimed on Austrian TV this week that the Serbian star was on the brink of a change of heart on COVID vaccines.
Muksch told Servus TV that the 34-year-old’s enforced spell on the sidelines for the Australian Open had convinced him to consider getting vaccinated.
“Rafael Nadal’s 21[st grand slam win] is driving him, no question,” he said.