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A spectator was ejected on the opening day of the Australian Open on Monday for reportedly protesting against the wearing of masks.
A member of the crowd at the Rod Laver Arena was filmed being led away by two police officers following what Mike Miller, the Sydney bureau chief of The Washington Post, wrote on Twitter had been a stand-off over a sign and a cry of, “Masks don’t work”.
The ejection was one of two flashpoints caught on camera at the tournament the day after Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia, with photographs also emerging of a fight between unmasked spectators and someone with his mask pulled down.
It was unclear what lay behind the altercation.
The unrest at the year’s first grand slam came barely 24 hours after a court ruled the Australian government had not acted unreasonably in cancelling Djokovic’s visa because he had become “perceived by some as a talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment” and that his ongoing presence risked “civil unrest”.
Djokovic’s lawyers had branded that argument by the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, “irrational”, accusing him of having taken no account of whether deporting Djokovic posed exactly the same risk.
There were no overtly pro-Djokovic or anti-vaxx protests on day one of the Australian Open, the day the 34-year-old had been scheduled to begin the defence of his title before he was thrown out of the country.
But there was no shortage of support for him as he arrived home in his native Serbia on Monday, with fans chanting, “You are our champion, Novak!”, and waving national flags outside Belgrade Airport.
“A hundred per cent, the Australian Open has lost its value. Whoever wins it now, doesn’t really count. Because Djokovic is the number one,” said Alek Drakoo, a member of the local Serbian community, who had planned to watch him play in Melbourne.
“Masks Don’t Work” guy was just led out of Rod Laver Arena by two police officers.
Someone shouted “Get him out of here.”
Someone else shouted what sounded like “no mask, no play.”
(My wife says “no hat, no play” is a common schoolyard rule in Australia.) @AustralianOpen pic.twitter.com/Yc2IYSagyg
— Michael Miller (@MikeMillerDC) January 17, 2022
Djokovic had been scheduled to play compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic in the opening match of his title defence on Monday evening but was replaced by a 'lucky loser'.
“We all wanted t o see Djokovic play,” said teenager Jovan Milenkovic. “He's the world No 1, he's played here many years. He's won it a few times, lost it a few times. He's a good player, he brings fans, brings income for the Australian Open and I think it was a silly decision for them to leave him out.”
Other not so partisan tennis fans were more philosophical. Chris Shannon, who had tickets to watch Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena on Monday, said he understood and respected the government's decision even if he was disappointed.
“I think it kind of dragged on a little bit too long," he said. “But it's great that we can kind of put that behind us. You know I [wish] the best for Djokovic, he's a great tennis player. I wanted to see him play but. So be it.”
Olga Blom said she was glad the whole affair had been wrapped up before the tournament started. “Well I'm just glad the focus is now on what we're all here for – yeah, the Australian Open,” she said.
Drakoo, shrouded in the Serbian flag, was convinced the saga would not have a long-term impact on Djokovic's career.
“The guy has been humiliated, bullied, they tried to turn everyone against him,” he added. “But I respect him for standing his ground, standing for what he believes in and he is mentally strong so he will get through it.”