Novak Djokovic's Father Compares Son's Detainment in Australia to Crucifixion of Jesus

People in tennis player Novak Djokovic's native Serbia are protesting his current confinement and being denied entry into Australia ahead of the Australian Open this month.

The 34-year-old top-ranked tennis player is currently waiting in a hotel with asylum-seekers and refugees after the Australian Border Force denied his COVID-19 vaccine exemption request and canceled his visa. Djokovic has refused to disclose whether he has received the vaccine.

One of the most vocal protesters against Djokovic's situation is his father, Srdjan Djokovic. On Thursday, he likened this incident to an attack on Serbia, referencing NATO's 1999 bombing of Serbia to remove their forces from Kosovo.

"Novak is Serbia, and Serbia is Novak," he said. "They are trampling on Novak and thus they are trampling on Serbia and the Serbian people."

Srdjan Djokovic said his son was a symbol of the "free world" and that the Australian authorities were "mistreating" him because he's a Serb.

"Shame on them, the entire freedom-loving world should rise together with Serbia," he continued. "They crucified Jesus, and now they are trying to crucify Novak the same way and force him on his knees."

Other residents in Belgrade, Serbia's capital, agreed with the conspiracy theories that Djokovic is being targeted for being Serbian rather than not complying with vaccine mandates.

Srdjan Djokovic, Novak Djokovic, Serbia
Tennis player Novak Djokovic's father Srdjan said his son was the victim of a "political agenda" in Australia. Above, Srdjan Djokovic speaks during a protest in Belgrade, Serbia, January 6. Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo

Djokovic had hoped to win his 21st Grand Slam title at this Australian Open, which would set the men's record for major championship victories.

His ability to compete in Melbourne and take on rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has been in limbo since his visa was canceled.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic's government summoned the Australian ambassador in protest over Djokovic's "detention."

Vucic said he had spoken to Djokovic and blasted Australian authorities for keeping the tennis star in an "infamous hotel," referring to the facility where Djokovic is being housed along with asylum-seekers and refugees.

"I'm afraid that this overkill will continue," Vucic said. "When you can't defeat someone on the court, then you do such things."

Most of Djokovic's fans at home agree, reflecting the anti-Serb conspiracy theories that are pervasive in the Balkans.

"It is historically evident that the world has something against the Serbs," said Darko Ikonic, a Belgrade resident.

"I'm not saying that Serbs are heavenly people or anything similar. That is a nonsense," he added. "But it is obvious that they do not want him to be the best tennis player in history because they like other tennis players, such as Nadal or Federer, better."

The odds that a player from Serbia—a Balkan country bombarded by NATO in 1999 while Djokovic was a boy, economically crippled, with few tennis courts and little tennis pedigree—would become the world's No. 1 were close to zero.

However, Djokovic did it, creating a huge following in Serbia as well as neighboring Balkan states, despite being heavily criticized abroad for his frequent on court theatrics and outbursts, as well as his approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and refusing to disclose whether he has been vaccinated or not.

Aside from his anti-vaccine stance, Djokovic has ruffle feathers with his attempt to start a players' association outside of the official channels supported by Nadal and Federer as well as occasional flashes of temper while playing. That included throwing and smashing his racket during the Tokyo Olympics and other matches or, most infamously, when he was disqualified from the 2020 U.S. Open after accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball after dropping a game.

He has had a fraught relationship with some spectators around the world. Supporters of Federer and Nadal see him as an interloper. He is the youngest of the trio—Federer is 40; Nadal 35—and came along after the "Fedal" rivalry had captured so much attention. At the beginning of the 2011 season, Federer owned 16 major titles, Nadal nine and Djokovic one. Over the next decade, Djokovic has gained on them and compiled a winning record against each.

And while he does get plenty of support from crowds, some say Djokovic gets less support when he plays Federer or Nadal. In terms of endorsements, Djokovic earned less than half of what Federer did from May 2020 to May 2021, according to Forbes.

In the midst of the pandemic in 2020, and with professional tennis shut down, Djokovic organized the Adria Tour, a series of exhibition events without social distancing, in his native Serbia and neighboring Croatia. The tournament was abandoned after several participants tested positive for coronavirus. Djokovic and his wife Jelena revealed positive tests.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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