It was the moment Novak Djokovic fans could finally greet their hero, sharing their joy at his visa cancellation appeal success. Or so they thought.
Throughout Monday afternoon, crowds gathered on Melbourne streets and marched through the city until they reached the officer of the Serbian’s lawyer, where it was believed the tennis star was.
Many dressed in the national colours, cheering and waving Serbian flags. One fan said he felt like he “might cry”.
And then came the moment they thought the men’s tennis world No.1 was finally being driven out of the office in a black Audi.
Police spread arms wide to hold supporters back as the doors to the carpark of a Flinders Lane building slowly opened.
The atmosphere turned electric.
“Free Novak. Free Novak. Free Novak,” they chanted as they swarmed the vehicle.
Cameras, phones, flags and shouting filled the air as the car crawled slowly down a road filled with dozens of fans.
Eventually, 9News reporter Adam Hegarty said the scene “turned violent” and police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
But in the next few hours it emerged it was most likely not a vehicle carrying the sportsman.
An early photo shared of the inside of the car was wrongly described by some as being Djokovic.
Hours later, the Associated Press published a photo that more clearly showed the man in the back seat of the car.
In the later photo, the man has his hands on his cheeks but is clearly not Djokovic.
But the confusion didn’t change the mood of those celebrating Djokovic’s legal victory, despite the threat hanging over his head of the Immigration Minister considering using executive powers to revoke his visa again.
Djokovic later shared a photo of himself standing on court in Melbourne next to three others.
“I’m pleased and grateful that the judge overturned my visa cancellation,” he said on social media.
“I flew here to play at one of the most important events we have in front of the amazing fans.”
There are no guarantees Djokovic will return to the court for the Australian Open, given Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is considering using his “personal power” to again cancel the Serbian’s visa.
Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly’s decision to overturn Djokovic’s visa cancellation and order his release was based on the Australian Border Force’s “unreasonable” handling of the decision and didn’t make any finding on whether the visa itself was deserved.
But that didn’t stop the celebrations among fans on Flinders Lane in Melbourne on Monday evening following the Federal Circuit Court hearing.
Djokovic is famously adored in his native Serbia, with fans across the world consistently turning out in loud crowds to support the national sporting hero.
Rallies have even been held in Serbia in recent days protesting his treatment in Australia.
Speaking at the rally, Srdjan Djokovic described his son’s struggle to play at the Australian Open as a fight against “globalists who want to ruin everything.”
“He is fighting for himself, his people and all freedom-loving nations in the world,” said Srdjan Djokovic, an outspoken critic of the West and supporter of Serbia’s traditional Slavic ally Russia.
“They hate him because Australian politicians have put pressure on people to hate him because he thinks with his own brain.”