Novak Djokovic had simply wrapped up final season by successful the ATP Finals for a document sixth time when, fairly than looking forward to 2023, his thoughts instantly went again to the best way 2022 started: He was unable to compete in final 12 months’s Australian Open after being deported from the nation as a result of he was not vaccinated towards COVID-19.
That entire episode, and the choice to eschew the pictures required for entry elsewhere, too, helped outline his season and, maybe to some, his legacy. In order he mirrored on his triumph on the year-ending championships in Italy final November, Djokovic seen it via the prism of what occurred in Australia final January.
“It feels deeply satisfying and, on the identical time, enormous aid, due to the circumstances that I’ve been via this 12 months — conditions earlier this 12 months, in fact, with Australia… That had an impact, clearly, on my begin of the 12 months,” the 35-year-old from Serbia mentioned.
“For the primary a number of months, I used to be looking for that steadiness, game-wise but additionally mentally, so as to have the ability to come again to the courtroom and discover that tennis stage that I want.”
When the brand new Grand Slam season begins on the Australian Open on Monday, Djokovic will likely be again. Again in Australia — regardless of by no means getting inoculated towards the coronavirus — because of authorities selections to take away any vaccination necessities for guests and to waive what may have been three-year ban for him as somebody whose visa had been revoked. Again at a match he has dominated like no different, leading to 9 of his 21 main trophies, together with the previous thrice he performed there.
Again in place to attempt for elite standing and to problem his nice rival Rafael Nadal for supremacy within the Grand Slam title chase. Positive, it’s Nadal who’s the defending champion and who owns a males’s document 22 majors. It’s Djokovic, although, who will draw essentially the most consideration. And it’s Djokovic who will likely be seen because the favorite — and would have been, even had he not began off his journey to Australia by successful a tune-up title in Adelaide.
The lead-up to this Australian Open has been full of speak about who won’t be there: Serena Williams and Roger Federer ended their taking part in careers in 2022, as did Ash Barty; No.1-ranked Carlos Alcaraz and seven-time main champion Venus Williams are injured; former No.1 and four-time slam winner Naomi Osaka final performed a accomplished match in August; one other former top-ranked participant, Simona Halep, is serving a provisional doping suspension.
As soon as play begins, the discuss will squarely be about Djokovic, and most folk within the sport appear to agree he must be again within the area.
Nadal, for one, referred to as it “good for tennis.”
“It is good to see cooler heads prevailing there, (after) politics acquired in the best way,” former US Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish mentioned.
Frances Tiafoe, an American who reached the US Open semi finals, mentioned: “We wish the largest gamers taking part in within the largest tournaments on the earth, no matter every part else. We’re making an attempt to promote a product on the finish of the day, and also you need these huge names on the huge occasions.”
One measure of how a lot issues have modified, even because the coronavirus stays part of day by day life around the globe: For the primary time since 2020, gamers on the Australian Open won’t have to self report in the event that they take a look at constructive for COVID-19; match director Craig Tiley mentioned they’re merely being inspired to remain away if they’re sick.
Djokovic’s authorized saga created loads of drama — and drew lots public expression of opinions, whether or not from these happy he wasn’t allowed into the nation or these protesting the result — a 12 months in the past, however the response to his return has been fairly muted to date, with little fuss or fanfare.
“Everyone was very welcoming” upon his arrival, Djokovic mentioned, declaring greater than as soon as: “I do not maintain a grudge.”
So what if he hasn’t gained a Grand Slam match performed on a tough courtroom since 2021? (He was not on the US Open as a result of he could not enter the US as an unvaccinated foreigner, a coverage that was not too long ago prolonged, which means Djokovic may be unable to enter the tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami once more.)
So what if he’s “solely” ranked No.5?
“In my thoughts, I at all times see myself as the most effective participant on the earth, in fact. I’ve that form of mentality and that form of method,” Djokovic mentioned, “no matter who’s throughout the online, no matter what the floor is, no matter what season it’s.”