The Serbian tennis star is neither a victim nor a heavy, writes Serbian journalist Tatjana Đorđević Simić. But back home in Serbia, he is a hero who risks to turn in to a puppet of Serbia's nationalistic government.
In a video circulating from Serbia's public broadcaster RTS, a young Novak Djokovic is asked by an interviewer what his dream in life is. He doesn't hesitate: to become No. 1 tennis player in the world. Djokovic was only seven years old at the time.
"As a boy I often dreamed of playing at Wimbledon," Djokovic once said. He has played it, and won it six times. In his career so far, he has won all the other major tournaments, 20 Grand Slams in total.
And if he had won the 2022 Australian Open tournament that starts today, he would have been the player with the most Grand Slams in the history of tennis. Unfortunately, this dream of his will not come true as Djokovic yesterday was expelled from Australia after the final ruling of the federal court that unanimously rejected the Serbian champion's appeal against his visa cancellation.
The Djokovic saga that has dragged on in the world of sports and beyond — because he apparently entered Australia unvaccinated against COVID-19 — seems to be over. Over the past ten days, the worldwide media hunt for the Serbian champion has turned him from a good and strong man into an anti-vaxxer who couldn't care less. The affair had such an immediate international echo that it was bound to descend quickly into nationalistic tones in Serbia, turning him into yet another victim of a people on which all the blame fell for the Balkan Wars.
The father of the Serbian champion referred to his son's lost battle against the Australian government on social media in similar tones: "The attempt to assassinate the best sportsman in the world is over, 50 bullets in Novak's chest."
He is neither a victim of a witch hunt, nor a witch
In addition to the rhetoric employed by Djoković's father, which echoes many clichés that have strengthened Serbian nationalist propaganda since the 1990s, immediate support for the battle lost by the tennis player came from Serbian President Aleksandar Vučic.
"This looks like a witch hunt," Vučic said, adding that Novak can now return to Serbia, where he is always welcome and where he can look everyone in the eye with his head held high.
A mural in Belgrade
No witch hunt, or witch
From the words of the father, who justifiably only wanted to defend his son, and from the words of the Serbian president, who seems to have only wanted to defend one of his citizens who happens to be the world's best tennis player, it seems that the whole West, including Australia, hates Serbia.
Defending Djokovic doesn't mean defending the country. He is neither a victim of a witch hunt, nor a witch. At this moment, unfortunately, he is rather a puppet in the hands of the government in Belgrade, which is exploiting the popularity of the champion.
Surely Djokovic would not have gone to Australia if he had not been issued a valid visa, and if there had been no guarantees from the organizers of the Australian Open. Conversely, he could have guessed what he would have been up against, as Australia requires visitors to be vaccinated in order to enter the country.
Whether it is his own fault, or it depends on some human error made by his staff while filling out the forms to get the visa, as Djokovic himself recently stated, he will not play one of the biggest tournaments. He also risks a three-year ban from entering Australia. But despite what he seems to have lost this time, while he is on his way back to Serbia, his people are waiting impatiently for him because he remains their No. 1. Forever.