MELBOURNE. — Australian Open tennis spectators were warned yesterday that they risk being ejected if they target nine-time champion Novak Djokovic. The Serbian will be back at the Grand Slam in Melbourne next week after being deported on the eve of last year’s tournament over his Covid vaccination stance.
His deportation divided opinion in a city that endured some of the longest lockdowns in the world at the height of the pandemic. How he is received remains to be seen.
The 35-year-old was, however, warmly welcomed at the Adelaide International last week with the crowd overwhelmingly in his corner. He went on to win the tournament.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told the Herald Sun newspaper that any fans looking to taunt Djokovic would not be tolerated.
“If they disrupt the enjoyment of anyone else – boom, they are out,” he said. “We don’t want them on site. They can stay away or we will kick them out.”
Tiley encouraged fans to “be respectful”. “The one thing that I always liked about Melbourne is there is a great appreciation of excellence and for sport, I think more than anywhere in Australia,” he said.
“I have an expectation that people will appreciate that.”
The Australian Open starts on Monday but Djokovic’s return to Melbourne Park will actually be at a ticketed exhibition match against Nick Kyrgios tomorrow at a sold-out Rod Laver Arena.
Three-time major champion Andy Murray said he was confident Djokovic would be given the respect he deserves.
“I don’t like seeing players get booed, it’s not a nice feeling when that happens,” he said at the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne.
“Novak got a lot of support in Adelaide, I’m sure it will be the same in Melbourne.” Djokovic, one of the most successful men’s players of all time, said in Adelaide that the support he received there was “something that I don’t think I’ve experienced too many times in my life”.
“It definitely felt like playing at home,” he added. Meanwhile, Djokovic and women’s world No. 2 Ons Jabeur were named yesterday on the first executive committee of the controversial Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA).
Serbia’s Djokovic, the former men’s No. 1, was instrumental in the creation of the PTPA, having quit as president of the ATP Player Council in 2020 to launch the breakaway organisation. The ATP runs men’s tennis. The PTPA is independent of the ATP and its women’s equivalent, the WTA, and says it wants to give players a greater voice in the sport. Six other players were also named on the executive committee, or leadership body: Paula Badosa, Hubert Hurkacz, John Isner, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Vasek Pospisil and Zheng Saisai. — AFP.
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