Novak Djokovic’s father has lashed out at the Australian government over the treatment of the tennis star, likening it to an “assassination attempt”.
Srdjan Djokovic took to social media to blast the Federal Court’s ruling to uphold the government’s decision to cancel his son’s visa.
“The attempt to assassinate the best athlete in the world has ended, 50 bullets in Novak’s chest,” a post to his Instagram said.
“See you in Paris.”
Mr Djokovic later distanced himself from the post, saying the words were not his but of his son’s fans.
In a statement, the Djokovic family said: “We will be there to share the blows he received, to help him regain his energy, his faith in this sport, above all in fair play, which was completely absent here.”
As Serbs voted on the future of their constitution on Sunday, those divided by politics were also united in anger at the fate of their homegrown hero and national icon.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić spoke to Djokovic moments before he was deported from Melbourne.
He said Australia’s treatment of the tennis star during his 10-day stay amounted to torture – echoing comments he made in an Instagram video posted on Friday.
“It was not only intellectual but physical torture against Novak Djokovic,” Mr Vucic said.
“And there was something else which was even worse: that was a witch-hunt organised against Novak Djokovic.”
Mr Vučić criticised the Australian government for changing the rules to fit a political agenda.
“If you only made it clear that whoever is not vaccinated cannot enter the country, Novak Djokovic either wouldn’t have gone or he would have got vaccinated,” he said.
“The ones who think they showed how they stick to their principles, have only shown that they have never had any.”
Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabić had maintained a measured response throughout the saga but called the final decision to deport Djokovic “scandalous”.
“It’s been incredible to witness brutal lies, incredible lies in Australia by the representatives of the state,” she told reporters in the capital Belgrade.
“In Serbia, when you grant a visa to someone, that means this individual can enter the country, and not that he should travel half the world only to be kicked out.”
Earlier, the country’s sports and youth minister, Vanja Udovičić, said Serbia was considering the next diplomatic steps it might take.
“This is no longer a question of sport, but we are talking about the breach of his liberty and the way in which each citizen on this planet should be treated,” he said.
Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews remained staunch on Monday morning that the treatment of Djokovic was in line with the government’s border policy.
“I am very much aware of a lot of the commentary that is happening but my job as Australia’s Home Affairs Minister is to protect our borders,” Ms Andrews said.
“I understand that this has played out very publicly but … Australians can be very confident that the Morrison government and its ministers will do all that they can to ensure we have strong borders and that those people who are attempting to come to Australia abide by the laws of the time.”
‘Muhammad Ali was vilified too’
Athletes and political figures across Europe took to social media to share messages of support for the world number one.
On Twitter, Serbia’s national Olympic team said, “Despite the great injustice done to him, [Novak Djokovic] is our winner!”
“Only he knows how difficult the previous days were for him, and in such circumstances, he showed all the manners of the greatest champion!”
Former president of the UN General Assembly Vuk Jeremić also backed his countryman.
“The legacy of [Novak Djokovic] will go beyond achieving historical tennis record,” he wrote on Twitter.
“One should remember that Muhammad Ali was vilified too, after refusing to go to Vietnam. The rest was history.”
‘Very ugly and unfair’
Anger had been building on the streets of the capital since Serbia’s national hero was placed in immigration detention last week.
“I’m really, like, angry because of it, and I’m also sad because of it,” Belgrade resident Ivan Sascie told the ABC.
“I think it’s a bad decision because he’s the number one tennis player.
“Of course, Serbia is sad you know, he’s like a national hero here.”
Sladjana Radovic accused the Australian government of not liking Serbians.
“I think it’s very ugly and unfair, and he really doesn’t deserve it.
“He did a lot of good things for tennis, for Australian people.
“I don’t know, maybe because he’s from Serbia or I don’t know why, [but] I think they don’t like him.”
“He’s one of the best things Serbia has at the moment … you don’t have, unfortunately, a lot of great things in Serbia, so Novak is the best.”
‘Focus on the game and tournament I love’
In a statement, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed with the Court ruling” but hoped the world’s attention would soon return to tennis.
“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,” he said.
Djokovic boarded a flight from Melbourne to Dubai just hours after a unanimous ruling by a three-judge bench rejected his appeal against the cancellation of his visa on Sunday.
It is unclear whether the world’s top-ranked male tennis player will fly to Belgrade to spend time with his family or return to his luxury home in Monte Carlo.
A representative for the tennis ace said Djokovic would not provide further comment until after the Australian Open finished at the end of the month.
The Serb had been chasing a record-breaking 21st grand slam win at the tournament, which would have seen him pull ahead of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as the most successful male singles tennis champion in history.
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