Novak Djokovic says he holds no grudges over his deportation drama last summer but admits his journey to Australia this year felt “different” because of the circumstances surrounding his visa cancellation prior to the 2022 Australian Open.
Djokovic was denied the chance to defend his 2021 AO title when he was detained and later ordered to leave the country last January – and following his first competitive match Down Under in almost two years, revealed he was “pleasantly surprised” by the warm reception from the Adelaide crowd.
“Well look, I can say it was different coming into Australia this year than any other year, certainly because of the events 12 months ago,” Djokovic said.
“But at the same time – 12 months is quite a long time as well. Already it’s behind me, I’ve moved on, I’m looking forward to (what is to) come because I always play very well and probably my best tennis throughout my career (has been) on Australian soil.”
The world No. 5 breezed through his opening match of the Adelaide International on Tuesday, dropping just nine points on-serve in a 6-3 6-2 win over Constant Lestienne.
Djokovic defied the early season nerves that had plagued some of his fellow top seeds in Adelaide and was spurred on by a vocal Memorial Drive crowd, which featured a strong Serbian contingent eager to let their tennis hero feel welcome in Australia.
In an awkward moment during the post-match interview, the on-court interviewer prefaced his question with, “Australia has been so good to you …” which drew an interesting reaction from the crowd and player.
Djokovic was clearly bemused by the wording of the question and offered a tongue-in-cheek response.
“I mean, if I have to pick one country where I’ve had the most success, which treated me the best way – in terms of tennis … it’s here, definitely,” he said.
The 21-time grand slam winner said he had been “looking forward to” coming to Australia but did not know the reception he would get once he landed in Down Under, given how last summer played out.
“I was kind of joking around with my team, hoping I can enter Australia this time, and that’s what happened,” Djokovic said.
“It was really, I would say (as) normal as any other year coming into Australia, except last year.
“To see a packed house before my first match was definitely a pleasant surprise – lots of support, lots of love (and) that obviously motivated me and allowed me to express myself in the best possible way on the court with my game,” he added.
“Every experience and every day that I’ve had so far in my visit this year was positive. People I have encountered on the beach or in restaurants or wherever I was – roaming around the city or of course here at the tennis – everybody was very welcoming.
“If I wasn’t looking forward to coming to Australia I wouldn’t be here. I want to be here and I’m glad that I (have) received, so far, the reception that I wished for, so the overall experience up to this moment is very positive.
“If I focus on the negatives that’s what I will attract (and) I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to hold a grudge. I’m here to play tennis, to enjoy sports and spread good energy.”
Djokovic has begun his 2023 campaign at the ATP250 in Adelaide, the home of his very first ATP victory way back in 2007, as the Serbian superstar eyes a run at an eye watering 10th Australian Open crown.
A win in Melbourne would draw Djokovic level with Rafael Nadal on 22 grand slam titles and further cement his status as one of – if not the greatest – tennis players of all time.
But he knows the spotlight in Melbourne will be much brighter than that in Adelaide, and there will be more questions and further uncertainty awaiting him at the Australian Open.
“I don’t know, I don’t have any expectations (for Melbourne). I just try to stay in the moment (and) now, my focus is here in Adelaide,” Djokovic said.
“Obviously Melbourne (being) a grand slam is so different. I’ll be there a week before my first match as I normally do – training, getting used to the slight difference in conditions.
“Let’s see. I hope that I will be received well.”
Djokovic will face Frenchman Quentin Halys in the Adelaide International second round later this week.
8.30PM HIJIKATA FALLS JUST SHORT OF ADELAIDE BOILOVER
It was so very nearly a glorious Davis Cup redemption story.
Rinky Hijikata had one of the masterminds of Canada’s Davis Cup demolition of Australia on the ropes in the opening round of the Adelaide International on Tuesday, just 24 hours after Alexei Popyrin took care of business against No. 2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Hijikata’s 2-6 6-4 6-3 defeat at the hands of world No. 18 Denis Shapovalov brought back memories of the 21-year-old’s stellar performance against Rafael Nadal last August, when he took the opening set off the 22-time major champion before running out of gas.
And though Hijikita was unable to convert his early lead against Shapovalov in Adelaide, it offered another glimpse at the young Sydneysider’s potential.
Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov were the architects of Canada’s Davis Cup glory, romping home in dual straight-sets victories over Alex De Minaur and Thanasi Kokkinakis respectively late last year.
The pair would have arrived in Australia expecting deep runs through the Adelaide International as a final tune-up for the Australian Open later this month, however one was bungled out in the first round and the other oh-so-close to joining him.
Neither Popyrin nor Hijikata were part of Australia’s enthralling run to the Davis Cup decider but their performances against two of the world’s best players signaled a bright future for generation next Down Under.
Popyrin and Kokkinakis are now the only Aussies left in action at the Adelaide International, after wildcard Priscilla Hon lost her opening round clash 4-6 6-3 6-3 to American Claire Liu.
Hon, 24, marked the first top-20 win of her career at Memorial Drive last year when she knocked two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova out in the opening round.
But the Queenslander could not repeat the dose against world No. 59 Liu, though she clearly had more than tennis on her mind.
Before the match Hon posted to Instagram paying tribute to former coach Anthony Richardson, who passed away in Brisbane aged 43 after a long battle with melanoma.
“RIP to one of the most loving and happy people I have ever met,” Hon wrote in a caption on Instagram.
“You were a 2nd dad to me growing up and I’m so lucky to of [sic] had you as a coach for 6 years. I have no words but I know how much me and everyone will miss you. Thank you for everything you have done for me Anthony. I will forever be grateful”.
Hon was also playing to earn a final Australian Open wildcard spot – which may still come, though the likes of Kim Birrell are also pushing for direct entry.
Olivia Gadecki, Storm Hunter and Talia Gibson were all awarded wildcard entries earlier this month – as was a 42-year-old Venus Williams – leaving one Aussie place open.
AWKWARD POST-MATCH QUESTION AFTER DJOKER BREEZES THROUGH
A clinical Novak Djokovic has opened his Adelaide International campaign in impressive fashion, downing Frenchman Constant Lestienne 6-3 6-2 to ease into the second round.
In a tournament of early upsets the 21-time grand slam winner left little to chance against Lestienne, in what was his first competitive singles match Down Under since the 2021 Australian Open final.
Djokovic was challenged early by the world No. 65 but once the Serb superstar broke serve in the sixth game it was all downhill from there, flying through the second set in just 35 minutes to book a second round date with another Frenchman, Quentin Halys.
Top seeds Felix Auger-Alissiame and Holger Rune were consigned to opening round exits on Monday and world No. 7 Daniil Medvedev was forced to save nine set points against the lower-ranked Lorenzo Sonego in Tuesday’s opener on centre court.
But Djokovic showed none of the early season rust of his fellow grand slam title contenders, facing just one break point for the match in an ominous early display of the nine-time Australian Open winner’s form.
The early season nerves regularly referenced by players in the build-up to the first ATP tournament of the year were nowhere to be seen in Djokovic’s game – the 35 year old clearly enjoying himself on his return to Australia, grinning through points and applauding the crowd’s cheers.
“First of all I have to say I’m glad to be back here in Australia,” Djokovic said post-match.
“Thank you for the welcome that I could only wish for.
“For a first match I can’t complain. I played very well, the first probably six games were very competitive. I’ve never faced him before today’s match.
“He’s a counterpuncher, he doesn’t make too many mistakes, he absorbs the pace of his opponent and (has) a tricky serve … but once I made the break in the first set, I felt like I stepped it up one or two levels and played good tennis for the rest of the match.”
In an awkward moment during the post-match interview, the on-court interviewer prefaced his question with, “Australia has been so good to you …” which drew an interesting reaction from the crowd and Djokovic himself.
The Serbian faced media last Thursday and spoke openly about last summer’s ordeal, when he was deported from Australia prior to the AO due to his vaccination status.
Djokovic was clearly bemused by the wording of the question and his response was very tongue-in-cheek.
“I mean, if I have to pick one country where I’ve had the most success, which treated me the best way in terms of tennis … it’s here, definitely,” he said.
“I won my first slam in 2008 (here), nine Australian Opens – I’ve had some epic matches (in Australia).”
The straight-sets result keeps alive the dream semi-final matchup between Djokovic and Medvedev, in what would be a repeat of the 2021 Australian Open final.
NOVAK’S WARM RECEPTION
Novak Djokovic is a popular man in Adelaide if his warm reception to centre court is any indication.
The 21-time grand slam champion was greeted with a raucous cheer from a near full house at Memorial Drive for his opening singles match of the Adelaide International.
Djokovic’s first competitive appearance Down Under since his 2021 Australian Open win came on Monday, when he partnered Vaseline Pospisil in the doubles.
The pair were consigned to a first round exit but that didn’t stop fans piling onto shoe court 1 to sneak a peek of the world No. 5 in action.
But the main event is in the singles and Djokovic begins his Australian summer today, as he eyes an eye watering 10th Australian Open title.
BALL KID COPS NASTY BLOW
That’s gotta hurt.
Tennis has the potential to throw up bizarre injuries, but just about every man on the planet can sympathise with the ball boy at the Adelaide International on Monday night.
The poor unsuspecting kid copped a 208kmh serve from powerful American Maxime Cressy straight to what appeared to be his groin area.
The ball was travelling so fast Aussie tennis star Thanasi Kokkinakis failed to get any racquet on the ace early in the second set and instead the ball hit the young boy.
The ballboy immediately winced in pain but after a brief health check from the linesman and a fist-bump with Kokkinakis, he powered on and stayed committed to his job.
Rusty Medvedev hoping shaky start behind him
It was a rusty beginning to Daniil Medvedev’s Aussie summer with the back-to-back Australian Open runner-up pushed all the way by Italian Lorenzo Sonego in the opening round of the Adelaide International on Tuesday.
The Russian’s first competitive minutes Down Under since his AO final capitulation to Rafael Nadal were shaky to say the least, with the world No. 7 forced to stave off nine Sonego set points in the opener before the Italian retired trailing 2-1 in the second.
Serving to stay in the opening set at 5-4, Medvedev’s baseline game began to desert him. The 2021 US Open champion misfired on multiple backhands and sent a forehand sailing long past the baseline, gifting Sonego multiple opportunities to steal the opening set.
But the Italian was prone to his own unforced errors, particularly at the net, and Medvedev’s serve eventually pulled him from the fire to take the opening set in a tie-break.
The script flipped in the second set with both players breaking serve, and Medvedev led 2-1 when Sonego called for a medical time-out to receive treatment on his right forearm.
The world No. 45 was unable to continue through the fourth game of the set and was forced to retire, bringing to a close an enthralling contest to open Tuesday’s proceedings.
Though not at his best in his 2023 debut, Medvedev was pleased with his resilience in the opening set to stave off nine set points, including a fightback from 0-40 in the 12th game.
“I didn’t know it was nine that’s actually crazy – maybe the first time in my life I’ve saved nine set points,” he said.
“What a match to start the year. Definitely unfortunate for everybody I think that it finished early in a way, even if we played one hour 40 (minutes) but happy to be through, happy to win the first set which we played to the end and of course I wish Lorenzo a speedy recovery.”
Medvedev’s win keeps him on course for a blockbuster semi-final showdown with Novak Djokovic, in what would be a repeat of the 2021 Australian Open final.
The Russian will first face another Serbian in the second round, in the form of Miomir Kecmanovic, who knocked Aussie Chris O’Connell out of the tournament on Monday.
Djokovic is next on centre court in Adelaide, up against Frenchman Constant Lestienne.
Medvedev painted himself as an instant villain at last year’s AO after labelling a jeering crowd ‘low IQ’ following his second-round win over Nick Kyrgios.
However, the Russian walked back the comment earlier this week, labelling it “stupid”, and the Adelaide crowd offered him a warm welcome back to Australia.
Originally published as Adelaide International: Follow the news and results from Adelaide here