Novak Djokovic dubbed 'Novax', father accuses Australia of trying to 'stomp all over Serbia'

The plight of tennis star Novak Djokovic, who faces deportation from Australia - has been compared to that of Jesus Christ, by his own family. 

Djokovic - dubbed 'Novax' on social media - arrived in the country earlier this week to play in the Australian Open, saying he had a medical exemption from vaccination against COVID-19. Border officials wouldn't let him in though, saying he failed to meet the requirements for an exemption and cancelling his visa. 

The world number one is currently holed up in a hotel used to house asylum seekers, awaiting the outcome of an appeal.

"Jesus was crucified on the cross… but he is still alive among us," his father Srdjan said at a rally in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, Australian media reported. Photos showed hundreds rallying outside the National Assembly.

"They are trying to crucify and belittle Novak and throw him to his knees."

Srdjan took a shot at Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose first name is reportedly considered derogatory in Serbia. 

"You, famous Prime Minister of the faraway naturally beautiful country, are behaving according to your own principles, which have nothing to do with us and our principles.

"We are humans, and you, sir, are not."

He also claimed the West was jealous of his son, "the best athlete in the world".

"They’re keeping him in captivity. They're stomping all over Novak to stomp all over Serbia and Serbian people. Morrison and his like have dared attack Novak to bring Serbia to its knees."

Djokovic's mother Dijana pitched in, saying her son was being kept "like a prisoner". Others who've been detained in Melbourne's Park Hotel have described it as a "torture cell", the Guardian reported, despite its website claiming it's a "luxurious" 4.5-star place to stay

"I just hope he will be strong as we are trying also to be very strong to give him some energy to keep on going. I hope that he will win."

His brother Djordje called it the "greatest sporting and diplomatic scandal".

"He was taken to a migrant hotel to a dirty room without any belongings… He was treated like a criminal while he is a healthy and decent man and a sportsman who has not endangered anyone’s life and has not committed any federal or legal offence."

It's not clear if Djokovic, 34, has been vaccinated against COVID-19 or not. People who haven't are at much greater risk of not only contracting the virus and falling seriously ill but passing it onto others. 

Djokovic contracted COVID-19 in May 2020, but the virus' continual evolution has made reinfection a very real possibility.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has said if Djokovic lied on his visa application, he must be deported. Morrison on Thursday said the "rules are rules".

Fewer than half of Serbians are vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Europe. Case numbers are rapidly rising there, the daily count likely to surpass those of the October wave within the next few days. 

There have been 12,850 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Serbia.