Australian Open loses a little lustre for Novak Djokovic fans
The absence of "The King of Melbourne Park" hung heavy over the Australian Open for fans of Novak Djokovic on Monday as the Grand Slam tournament got underway without the nine-times champion and world number one.
Djokovic was ushered onto a flight to Dubai on Sunday after losing a Federal Court appeal against the cancellation of his visa to enter Australia.
There were still representatives around Melbourne Park of the local Serbian community that has so vocally backed Djokovic to his many triumphs and some were not impressed.
"Djokovic was going to win his 21st Grand Slam and now he doesn't have the chance. I think it was embarrassing on behalf of the Australian government," Alek Drakoo told Reuters.
"100% the Australian Open has lost it's value. Whoever wins it now, doesn't really count. Because Djokovic is the number one. That's the guy, you need to beat him to win it."
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 to see Djokovic play," said teenager Jovan Milenkovic.
"He's the world number one, 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."