By Akinwande Soji-Ojo
Novak Djokovic flew out of Melbourne airport on Sunday after losing a court battle to avoid deportation from Australia over his stance on COVID-19 vaccination.
An AFP reporter aboard the plane confirmed the flight to Dubai had taken off, after capturing images of Djokovic at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport late Sunday.
The world number one tennis player has earlier said he was “extremely disappointed” by Australia’s decision to deport him but he would comply and leave the country.
Hours earlier, three judges at the Federal Court had unanimously dismissed the unvaccinated Serbian superstar’s last-gasp attempt to overturn the government’s cancellation of his visa.
“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” the 34-year-old said in a statement on the eve of the Australian Open.
In an 11-day battle over his lack of a COVID-19 vaccination that captured global attention, the tennis ace had his visa cancelled at Melbourne airport, reinstated on a procedural issue, and then cancelled again by the government.
He spent his first few nights in Australia at a notorious Melbourne detention centre, walked free to practice on the Australian Open’s courts for several days after he won back his visa, and then was returned into detention.
“I will now be taking some time to rest and to recuperate, before making any further comments beyond this,” Djokovic said.
The defending Australian Open champion flew into Melbourne on January 5, hoping to win the title for a 10th time, and in the process become the first men’s player in the history of the game to grab 21 Grand Slam titles.
“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,” said Djokovic, who had been scheduled to play Monday evening as the first seed.
“I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.
“Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me,” he added.