Tennis icon Novak Djokovic has been handed a boost ahead of this year’s Australian Open.
The former world number one makes his return to Melbourne Park after missing last year’s event due to being unvaccinated against Covid-19. After being detained and having his visa cancelled on two separate occasions, the Serb was deported and forced to watch the tournament from the sidelines.
Fast forward a year and the 35-year-old had his three-year ban overturned and will compete for a record-extending 10th Australian Open crown. Before his campaign begins next week, tournament organisers have warned any spectators who plan to heckle him will be removed from the arena.
“If they disrupt the enjoyment of anyone else – boom, they are out,” Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley told the Herald Sun. “We don’t want them on site. They can stay away or we will kick them out.” Due to his strong views against the Covid vaccine, Djokovic did make some enemies in the nation where he has enjoyed so much success. Twelve months on, it is still in the back of his mind as he prepares to grace Rod Laver Arena once again.
“You can’t forget those events,” he said. “It’s something I have never experienced before and hopefully never again but it is a valuable life experience for me and something that will stay there. But I have to move on. What happened to me 12 months ago was not easy for me or my family or team. It was disappointing to leave the country like that but I was really hoping to get permission to play back in Australia. It’s a country where I have had tremendous support. I have always played my best tennis here.”
However, with less than a week before the first Grand Slam of he year commences, Djokovic suffered an injury scare. He was seen receiving treatment on his left leg throughout an exhibition match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev on Wednesday. He lasted a little under 40 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.
During the session, Djokovic broke the Russian in the opening game but then received treatment while leading 3-2 and won only one more game from that point. Speaking to 9News Melbourne after withdrawing from the practice match, Djokovic said: "I just felt it pulling and I didn't want to risk anything worse.
"I played a set and apologised to him [Medvedev] and he was understanding. I just want to avoid any bigger scares before the Australian Open." Djokovic is also set to face Nick Kyrgios in an exhibition contest on Friday, an event which sold out in less than an hour.
It was during the clash against the Medvedev in Adelaide last week that Djokovic's hamstring complaint is believed to have begun. "There were a few times in the match I felt was tightening up, the muscle," he told reporters at the tournament. "But nothing that would worry me for my performance."
The former world one number battled through the pain to defeat Medvedev in straight sets, before rallying from a set down to defeat America’s Sebastian Korda 6-7(8), 7-6(3), 6-4 and lift the 92nd title of his illustrious career. He tied the tally of Rafael Nadal and will move past his great rival's haul if he can lift the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup once again.