Supporters of Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic gather at the Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade, Serbia, on Monday after his deportation from Australia. Photo by Marko Djokovic/EPA-EFE
Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Tennis star Novak Djokovic returned Monday to waiting fans in Serbia after his deportation from Australia.
Djokovic, 34, landed at Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade on a flight operated by Fly Dubai as dozens of his supporters waved Serbian flags.
The embattled athlete then slipped out of a private exit at the airport to avoid reporters, according to The New York Times, marking the conclusion of a whirlwind legal saga closely followed by those who both support and oppose vaccines.
Fans reportedly chanted his name as they watched the plane arrive, according to CNN.
Simon Avramov, a supporter of the athlete, visited the airport with his wife and two small children to watch as Djokovic arrived.
"The world could not let someone from this small country be a champion," he told the Times.
Djokovic has won nine Australian Open titles, including the past three, and was seeking a record 21st Grand Slam title. He is tied with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
He was deported from Melbourne on Sunday after losing an 11th-hour bid in an Australian federal court to save his chances to compete in the Australian Open after refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Australian federal court unanimously found that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke was within his legal rights to cancel Djokovic's visa for the second time Friday on the grounds that the tennis star's views on vaccines posed a risk to the public health and "good order" of the country.
Djokovic said in a statement over the weekend that he was disappointed in the decision but would be taking some time "to rest and recuperate."