Novak Djokovic says no hard feelings over COVID vaccine deportation as he targets tenth Australian Open | World News
Novak Djokovic says he’s happy to be back in Australia following his deportation in January – but admits it’s an experience that will stay with him for the rest of his life.
The 21-time Grand Slam singles champion was detained in an immigration hotel on arrival in Melbourne 12 months ago and sent home after his visa was cancelled due to his unvaccinated status.
A known vaccine sceptic, it was feared the presence of the Serbian star could stoke anti-vaccine sentiment.
Australia endured one of the world’s toughest coronavirus lockdowns during the pandemic.
Now, with vaccination against COVID-19 no longer required to enter Australia and following a change of government, Djokovic has successfully challenged a three-year ban on applying for a visa.
The 35-year-old will begin his season at the Adelaide International tournament next week.
Djokovic told a press conference: “You can’t forget those events. It’s one of these things that sticks with you, it stays with you for – I guess – the rest of your life. It was something that I’ve never experienced before, and hopefully never again.
“But it is a valuable life experience for me. I have to move on. Coming back to Australia speaks how I feel about this country, how I feel about playing here.
“I was really hoping that I’m going to have my permission back to get back into Australia and play here because it’s a country where I’ve had tremendous success in my career.
“I always felt great in Australia. I always played my best tennis, received a lot of support. Hopefully I can have another great summer.”
At the time of his deportation, public feeling was overwhelmingly against him being allowed in the country. It remains to be seen how he will be received by fans over the next month.
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Speaking about his reception so far, Djokovic said: “I’m hoping they’re going to be positive. It’s not something I can predict. I’ll do my best to play good tennis, bring good emotions and good feelings to the crowd.
“I’ve been here only two days. From the people in the hotel to the airport – to people at the tournament and at the club, everyone was really, really pleasant, really nice to me. We went for dinner last night, as well. All good for now.”
As well as the Australian Open, Djokovic also missed the US Open as COVID rules once again prevented him from entering the country to compete.
Despite his ranking slipping to five, he will go into the Australian Open as favourite to win the title for a record-extending tenth time.
He also says he carries no ill-feeling towards Melbourne, saying: “That event or those circumstances will not replace what I have lived in Melbourne and in Australia throughout my entire career.
“I come in with positive emotions, and I really look forward to playing there. It’s been my favourite slam, and results are proving that.”
Organisers have announced prize money of 76.5m Australian dollars (around £42.7m), an increase of 3.4% on last year, with the singles champions each taking home 2.975m Australian dollars (around £1.66m).
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