Novak Djokovic met by rowdy crowd in Dubai for first match since Australian Open fiasco

Novak Djokovic reacts to his recent media coverage

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Novak Djokovic received a rousing reception in his first match in 80 days. The world No 1 has not played since the Davis Cup in December after being deported from Australia on the eve of the season-opening Grand Slam. The five-time champion in Dubai walked onto court to loud chants of his name for the first match of his 2022 season as fans seemed to warm to him in the wake of his Australian Open vaccine drama.

Djokovic is taking on world No 58 Lorenzo Musetti in his first match of the year.

The Serb’s start to the season was delayed after he was deported from Australia, forcing him out of the first Grand Slam of the year.

He arrived in Melbourne with a medical exemption granted by Tennis Australia, allowing him to bypass the requirement of being fully vaccinated, but had his visa revoked at the airport.

The world No 1 then spent the weekend in a government detention hotel before successfully appealing the decision on fairness grounds and having his visa reinstated.

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Having been allowed to freely enter Melbourne, his visa was then cancelled for a second time by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.

Djokovic lost his Federal Court appeal as the judges upheld Mr Hawke’s view that his presence would “excite anti-vax sentiment” in the country, having accepted the validity of his medical exemption, given on the basis that he had recovered from a positive Covid infection in December.

The 34-year-old shared the record of 20 Grand Slams with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and was the favourite to make history by winning a 21st Major Down Under but was denied the chance of doing so.

Instead it was Nadal who lifted his second Australian Open trophy, pulling ahead of his rivals by winning a record 21st Grand Slam title.

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Djokovic has since opened up on the Australian Open controversy, admitting he didn’t agree with the view that he would encourage anti-vaxxers.

“What people probably don’t know is that I was not deported from Australia on the basis that I was not vaccinated, or I broke any rules or that I made an error in my visa declaration,” he told the BBC recently in his first full interview since the ordeal.

“All of that was actually approved and validated by the Federal Court of Australia and the Minister for Immigration.

“The reason why I was deported from Australia was because the Minister for Immigration used his discretion to cancel my visa based on his perception that I might create some anti-vax sentiment in the country or in the city, which I completely disagree with.”

The Serb is now ready for a fresh start in Dubai, where he is a five-time former champion.

He faces world No 58 Musetti in the opening round, having contested a thriller with the 19-year-old during last year’s French Open.

The Italian took a two-set lead over the top seed in the round of 16 before Djokovic fired back to win the next two 6-1 6-0 and was leading by 4-0 in the fifth when Musetti retired.

Djokovic is also fighting to keep his world No 1 ranking this week, with Daniil Medvedev able to steal the top spot from the Serb depending on his own results in Acapulco.

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