One year after his sensational expulsion, Novak Djokovic not only wants to win his tenth Australian Open title but also to finally make peace with Australia.
This news must have felt like a slap in the face for Novak Djokovic. At the Australian Open, which starts on Monday, players with covid can also compete, provided they feel physically able to do so. A year ago, everything was very different – especially for Djokovic. Quite a few of his fans think so: An example was made of the unvaccinated tennis star back then. “Suddenly I was the villain of the whole world,” says the 35-year-old, recalling the days-long entry frenzy: “The traces are still there.”
Now Djokovic is back, at the Australian Open the 21-time Grand Slam tournament winner will compete as the big title favourite. He said the fact that he had to end his first practice session at Melbourne Park prematurely on Wednesday, groggy, was a precautionary measure. “I felt the pulling a little bit, I didn’t want to risk anything worse,” Djokovic told the Australian news portal “9News” about the discomfort in his left leg, which had already caused him problems earlier at the ATP tournament in Adelaide.
The “Djoker” does not lack motivation. He not only wants to celebrate his tenth triumph at the “Happy Slam”, but also to “give the crowd good emotions and good feelings”. Djokovic wants to finally make peace with Australia.
To ensure nothing stands in the way of reconciliation, tournament director Craig Tiley warned fans not to antagonise Djokovic in any way. “If they interfere with someone else’s joy – boom, they’re out,” Tiley told the Herald Sun newspaper: “They can stay away or we’ll kick them out.”
But Djokovic probably doesn’t have to fear catcalls or boos at all. At his most recent tournament victory in Adelaide, he was greeted with chants of “Nole, Nole”, lots of applause and great warmth from the fans. It “felt like home”, said Djokovic: “The support I’ve received over the last few days is something I haven’t had many times in my career.”
Especially not a year ago. Housed in a deportation hotel. Deported because of a visa that was declared invalid in court. Amid the Corona pandemic, the vaccination refuser also became a pawn in politics. It was a drama in several acts that kept the sports world on tenterhooks for days. The events would “accompany him for the rest of his life”, Djokovic said: “But I have to move on.” His three-year ban on entering the country has since been lifted, and he no longer needed proof of vaccination to enter the country.
Last defeat in Australia four years ago
His last defeat at the Australian Open was four years ago: a certain Hyeon Chung from South Korea knocked the Serb out in the round of 16. Such a slip-up seems unlikely this time, Djokovic has been too dominant and consistent lately.
While the mood in the field of players was divided last year, most competitors seem to welcome him with open arms. “As a competitor, I want to see Novak here,” said Australian Nick Kyrgios, who lost to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. The superstar’s return to the Grand Slam stage was the “best news”, Spain’s Rafael Nadal also said. The events of the previous year had been a “big mess” and “not good for our sport”, but: “It’s in the past.”
Not everywhere, though. The USA continues to require full Corona vaccination protection as an entry requirement for foreigners until at least 10 April, making the Serb’s start at the March tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami virtually impossible. “Well, if it’s official, then that’s the way it is. I mean, what can I do? Nothing. That’s all. You guys know my attitude. It is what it is,” Djokovic said calmly. He only wants to fight on the court.