Novak Djokovic was ‘hurt’ by how he was treated by fellow players during his Australian Open saga, but says there’s been a complete backflip this week. He says he’s been given a “positive” reception from players in the locker room and is “excited” to get back on court for his first match of the season at the Dubai ATP tournament on Monday.
The world number one missed last month’s Australian Open due to the cancellation of his visa and his deportation from Australia as a result of not being vaccinated. He returns to the tour this week in the Emirates, where he will be competing for the first time since the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid last December.
Ahead of his opening round against Italian wildcard Lorenzo Musetti, Djokovic spoke to reporters on Sunday night about how it feels to be back on the tennis circuit, and whether there has been any negative reaction from his peers in the wake of his return.
“So far here most of the players that I’ve seen – I haven’t seen too many players – but most of the players that I’ve seen have been positive and welcoming. It’s nice to see obviously. I can’t say that was the case in Australia. It was a little bit strange. But here it’s well so far,” the 34-year-old Serb said.
Djokovic got back to training 10 days after he returned from Australia, and admits he needed some time to recover mentally from an emotional few weeks that saw him get detained by Australian Border Force in Melbourne and eventually have his visa cancelled twice before being sent back home.
The 20-time major champion said what happened in Australia made him “sad” and “disappointed” but he soon felt motivated to get back on the tennis court.
“I’ve been playing tennis for the last two and a half, three weeks. I’ve been enjoying it. I love the game, I love just hitting the tennis ball, so it wasn’t really difficult for me to pick up a racquet and go out on the practice court and just play,” said Djokovic, who is targeting a sixth Dubai title this week.
“Knowing I was coming to Dubai, I had something to work for, I had a goal. So now that I’m here I could say that I am as well-prepared as I possibly can be and I’m excited to, again, be on the tour.”
In an interview with the BBC, Djokovic said he was willing to forgo the chance to compete at any tournament, including the Grand Slams, if any of those events had a vaccine mandate.
He is aware he may not have many opportunities to play as an unvaccinated individual, which means planning his schedule in advance will become increasingly difficult moving forward. “I just have to follow the rules. Whatever tournament that I’m able to play, I’ll be trying to get to that country and play the tournament,” he said.
“I really can’t choose right now. It’s really about where I can go and play. Wherever I have an opportunity, I’ll be using probably that opportunity and going to play because this is what I do, it’s what I love to do still.”
Djokovic, who was eclipsed by Rafael Nadal on the men’s all-time list of most Grand Slams won, thanks to the Spaniard’s Australian Open last month, might relinquish his number one ranking on February 28 to Daniil Medvedev, who is playing in Acapulco this week.
The Serb, who begins his record 361st week at the top of rankings on Monday, is unaware of all the scenarios that might lead to his dethronement and is instead focusing on winning all his matches in Dubai.
“He deserves to be number one,” Djokovic said of Russian world number two Medvedev. “Eventually it’s going to happen. If it happens this week, I’ll be the first one to congratulate him.”