DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic on Thursday received a warm welcome in Dubai, where he visited the world’s fair following the global drama around his decision to remain unvaccinated.
After being twice detained and deported from Australia ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam Tournament last month, Djokovic was in the United Arab Emirates for the Duty Free Tennis Championships.
“I’m excited to go out on the tennis court next Monday,” he said when asked by The Associated Press how he feels after the recent twists and turns of the legal dispute over his travel visa. “I miss tennis honestly after everything that has happened.”
Djokovic this week doubled down on his decision to stay unvaccinated. The No. 1-ranked tennis player said he would skip the French Open, Wimbledon and other tournaments if he was required to get a coronavirus vaccine to compete.
Djokovic reiterated in an interview with Serbia’s state RTS television on Thursday that he keeps “an open mind” about the possibility of getting vaccinated in the future but remains willing to miss upcoming majors because of his refusal to do so.
“I am not exclusive, anything is possible in life,” he said. “I decided at this moment not to do it and I am ready to bear consequences.”
The government of Dubai does not require visitors to be vaccinated to enter. The men’s tennis tour event begins next week.
As he ambled into the pavilion Thursday surrounded by a sea of journalists, fans clapped and chanted “Nole,” his nickname.
Djokovic posed for selfies with adoring fans and set off on a guided tour of Serbia’s national pavilion at Expo 2020 days before he was due to hit the courts. The pavilion was hosting an event for his foundation, the Novak Djokovic Foundation, which promotes early childhood education in Serbia.
“I’m proud to be on this stage,” Djokovic said after his wife Jelena gave a presentation about the foundation’s work with children.
He said it was often hard to be involved as much as he wanted to be with the foundation given his whirlwind tournament schedule.
But he quickly acknowledged: “It’s not as busy as it used to be.”
The audience burst into applause.
Wearing a crisp white shirt and black mask emblazoned with his foundation’s logo, Djokovic gave high fives to toddlers and nodded encouragingly as he heard about Serbia’s start-up scene at the pavilion’s multimedia exhibit.
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