Fans have been warned they will be kicked out of Melbourne Park if they target controversial nine-time champion Novak Djokovic.
The 35-year-old has been criticised for his views on vaccination, telling the BBC in February last year that he would rather miss future grand slams than be forced to get a Covid vaccine.
The Serbian will be returning to Melbourne Park for the first time since 2021, having been deported last year personally by then-Immigration Minister Alex Hawke on “health and good order grounds”.
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Melbourne fans are famously some of the most passionate in the world, and with the city forced to endure some of the longest lockdowns in the world at the height of the pandemic, a hostile reception is anticipated for the former World No. 1.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has, however, issued a warning to any fans that are looking to come to the Open to target Djokovic.
“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 warned of removal and possible bans for hooligan fans, asking attendees 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.”
“I have an expectation that people will appreciate that.”
Djokovic received a warm reception from fans last week at the Adelaide International, which he won after defeating Sebastian Korda in the final.
Djokovic’s return to Melbourne Park will be not in the first round, but a ticketed exhibition match against Nick Kyrgios.
Tickets are already sold out, with the Friday night match to be staged on Rod Laver Arena and have proceeds go to the Australian Tennis Foundation.
The blockbuster exhibition reportedly sold out in 58 minutes, with Kyrgios taking a cheeky dig at his critics on Twitter.
“What a disgrace, a national embarrassment!”, Kyrgios quipped.
“How dare he sell out another stadium, the arrogance.”
The two have not always had the closest relationship, with Kyrgios labelling Djokovic a “tool” after his quarantine demands in the 2021 Open.
“I just can’t stand him,” Kyrgios said on the No Challenges Remaining podcast in 2019.
The relationship has warmed since then, with Kyrgios describing their current relationship as a “weird bromance”.
“I wasn’t his favourite guy – let’s say it that way – for many years,” Djokovic said in Adelaide last week.
“But he was one of the very few that stood by me last year, and I respect that and appreciate that.”
“Since then, our relationship has changed for the better.”
Kyrgios has spent the lead-up to his home Grand Slam sidelined with an ankle injury, pulling out of the Adelaide International.
He hasn’t played a competitive match on tour since losing to American Taylor Fritz in the quarter-final of the Japan Open in October last year.