The entire world will take a different view of Australia as a result of the “catastrophic” Novak Djokovic visa fiasco, according to fellow Serbian tennis star Laslo Djere.
The messy 11-day saga came to a head when Djokovic was deported late on Sunday night, after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel the unvaccinated world No.1’s visa was upheld in the Federal Court.
Instead of preparing for an Australian Open first-round match against compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic on Rod Laver Arena, nine-times champion Djokovic flew to Belgrade via Dubai.
It came amid protests from Serbia that the 20-time major winner had been dealt with appallingly – the calls led by president Aleksandar Vukic and prime minister Ana Brnabic, who labelled Djokovic’s treatment “scandalous”.
Fellow players Dusan Lajovic, Kecmanovic and Djere added their voices of support for Djokovic after their respective first-round matches at Melbourne Park on Monday.
“Not just Serbians, I think the whole world saw it and they probably will have a new or different opinion about Australia,” Djere said, after losing to 14th seed Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 3-6 7-6 (7-3).
“I mean, the guy had the exemption and they still deported him.
“I don’t know the details, so I also don’t want to be too harsh. But what everyone could read, yeah, he’s not vaccinated, but we were told that we can enter the country with an exemption, which he had, and yet he’s not here with us.
“Something went horribly wrong. Yeah, it was a true catastrophic situation.”
Djokovic’s deportation ended his Australian Open title defence before it began and left his bid for a record 21st major in tatters.
In the 34-year-old’s absence, Kecmanovic breezed past lucky loser Salvatore Caruso 6-4 6-2 6-1.
“We said that we’re going to give everything we have, try to, say, avenge (Djokovic) in a way, and make him proud,” Kecmanovic said.
“I know he’s our best representative, so it’s definitely a shame that he’s not able to participate and represent Serbia.
“But we’re going to give the best that we can and hopefully we can make up for it in some way.”
Lajovic outlasted Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics 6-3 4-6 6-1 6-7 (6-8) 6-1 to advance to the second round, but had Djokovic on his mind post-match.
“The way they treated him was terribly wrong,” Lajovic said.
“The decision itself was terribly wrong, and also the reason why they did it is also for me terribly wrong because based just an idea, I don’t think it’s the right way.
“I hope that in the future he will be the best tennis player in history and that this will be only looked at as a setback on his path to be the best tennis player to ever play the sport.”
If Djokovic chooses to stay unvaccinated, he is unlikely to be allowed to defend his French Open title in May-June.
It comes after French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu reportedly said sportspeople will need to be vaccinated to compete in the country, following the passing of stricter measures in the French parliament.
Tight restrictions could also rule Djokovic out of the US Open, meaning Wimbledon may be the only grand slam tournament where he competes this year.
Tied with Djokovic and Roger Federer on 20 grand slam titles, Rafael Nadal said he had grown tired of talk around his great rival’s off-court issues, which have overshadowed the Australian Open build-up and early stages.
“I believe that the situation is very clear now,” Nadal said.