Returning to Melbourne, Novak Djokovic holds no grudges

Novak Djokovic returned to Australia. A year after being deported after his visa was revoked, the Serb says he has no grudges. “If I had it, I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t get through it,” the great champion remarked on Saturday.

Small lag. In January 2022, Djoko, unvaccinated against COVID-19, arrived in Australia with the aim of playing the first major tournament of the season. He claims he has a special visa because vaccination against the virus is now mandatory to enter the country.

However, his visa was canceled by the government as it did not meet the requirements. Djokovic has twice been detained at Melbourne’s illegal immigration centre.

On the eve of the tournament, where he is looking for the ninth title, the “joker” is finally kicked out of the country.

“Bad Joker”

In a recent interview with Australia’s Channel 9, Djokovic admitted he had a hard time leaving his house in the weeks following the saga.

The former world number 1 also blamed some media outlets for portraying him as a “bad guy”.

Photo credit: AFP

But now the resentment is over. Djokovic was eager to return to Melbourne. It’s unclear whether it’s the pitch, the atmosphere or the sunshine at Melbourne Park, but Australia are doing very well in the fourth order. His nine wins are a record. A record he intends to improve on this year.

“All the positive experiences I had in Australia made up for what happened last year,” a relieved Djokovic said on Saturday.

“I was really looking forward to getting back here and playing tennis because at the end of the day, that’s what I do best. It was what I always wanted to do and what I wanted to do last year,” he continued.

A little nervous

While he was eager to reconnect with the tournament – and above all, Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne’s biggest stadium – Djokovic admits he was a little apprehensive about the public reception after what happened last year. .

His worries were quickly put to rest when he received a warm welcome in his charity exhibition match against local favorite Nick Kyrgios on Friday.

Photo credit: AFP

“When I got on the court, I was very emotional,” he said. [Mais] I am very grateful for the acceptance, love and support from my fans. »

Grand Slams, the ultimate goal

Djokovic is making no secret of it: he is in Melbourne to win his 10th title and also his 22nd major trophy. Thus, he would be equal to his biggest rival, Rafael Nadal of Spain, who won the title last year in his absence.

Because at almost 36 years old (a figure he doesn’t like to be mentioned, he laughed to reporters), Grand Slam titles are now his main goal.

“That’s the reason I keep playing tennis,” said the champion. I want to be the best. I want to win the biggest tournaments on the planet. And there is nothing bigger than a big tournament. »

His vaccination status prevented him from playing in many major tournaments last year. And not just Australia: Djokovic was notably absent from Indian Wells, Miami, Montreal, Cincinnati and the US Open.

Photo credit: AFP

But when he played, the Serb won. He won the ATP Finals, where the eight best players of the season gathered, without losing a single match. And last week in Adelaide, “Joko” won the cup, dropping only one round.

“I’m in really good shape,” he said. I summed up the last campaign in the best way possible. I believe in my chances. I still believe in my chances. »

It should be noted that Djokovic will face Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena, who is ranked 75th in the world, at 5 o’clock in the morning in Quebec.

After criticizing Djokovic, Kyrgios became his friend

Nick Kyrgios, who was the “terrible boy of tennis” in the early years of his career, is increasingly critical of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Of Djokovic, Kyrgios said in a 2019 podcast that he had a “sick need to be loved.”

“I think he wants to be loved so much and I find it unbearable. I also find his holidays [quand il envoie des baisers à la foule] intolerable,” the Australian added.

“Important for tennis”

Three years on and now Kyrgios is taking on Djoko on Friday for a charity match in Melbourne.

Tickets cost approximately $20 and proceeds are donated to the Australian Tennis Foundation, which helps underprivileged children play tennis.

Photo credit: AFP

Old rivals didn’t just collide. Kyrgios also threw flowers at the Serbian, who is the fourth favorite in Melbourne.

“It is important that he is with us,” said the Australian. He is one of the people in our sport. One of the greatest [Roger Federer] announced his retirement last year and I don’t realize how important they are to tennis. »

The saga brought them closer

At a press conference on Saturday, the “bad boy” – now a bit calmer – returned to the moment that brought the two players together.

“The problem he faced last year was that no one supported him during the COVID-19 story. Kyrgios said it was a moment when people outside of tennis, who care about your well-being, would stand up for you. I did too. I felt it was necessary. »

Photo credit: AFP

“What I did was more important than anything I said in the past,” he said. I defended it before my country. It was not easy for me, I was criticized a lot. But he liked it and we started talking to each other. »

One of the favorites?

Kyrgios, last year’s Wimbledon finalist against Djokovic and also a quarterfinalist in New York, will begin his tournament against Russian Roman Safiullin, world No. 98, in Quebec on Tuesday at 3 p.m.

At the age of 27, for the first time in his career, the Australian feels like one of the favorites to win a Grand Slam.

Admittedly, he is only the 19th seed in Melbourne, but his results at Grand Slams in the second half of 2022 suggest he can go far.

Australia’s best player isn’t plastered all over Melbourne Park, but Kyrgios says he “feels his country wants him to win”.

“It’s a privilege,” he said. It feels good. »

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