Novak Djokovic has apologised for a bizarre series of events on Friday that sparked widespread confusion throughout the tennis world.
The Serbian megastar sent shockwaves through the sport with a sudden withdrawal from his scheduled exhibition match in Adelaide - his first since coming out of quarantine.
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The 33-year-old pulled out just 30 minutes before showtime, with his camp citing blisters on his right hand.
Spectators in Adelaide had already gathered to get the first glimpse of the 17-time grand slam champion on court, during the build-up to his tilt at a record-extending ninth Australian Open title.
Suffice to say there was a large degree of shock when officials announced that Filip Krajinović would be replacing his Serbian counterpart in the exhibition match against Italy's Jannik Sinner.
The strange situation got even weirder when Aussie tennis great and commentator John Fitzgerald told Channel Nine he'd heard rumours that Djokovic would actually be making an appearance.
“There is a rumour floating around here that the great man, Novak, might make an appearance here,” Fitzgerald said.
“He obviously has problems with his hand. He’s got his mate, Serbian mate (Krajinovic), out here playing for him. But we are hear strong rumours that he might wander out at some stage.”
After Krajinovic claimed the first set 6-3 against Sinner, those rumours about Djokovic proved true as he came out to replace his compatriot in the match.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 29, 2021
The Serb showed no obvious sign of discomfort and didn't have tape on his right hand - which earlier in the day had, untroubled, handballed and marked an Australian Rules football while he was bare foot at a park.
Djokovic won his set against Sinner 6-3, before apologising to fans for the confusion he'd caused.
World No.1 says he ‘had to play’
"I am sorry that I didn't step in on the court from the beginning," he said.
"I had to do some treatment with my physio and wasn't feeling my best the last couple of days.
"I wanted to play ... it's not easy. But it's part of what we do.
"We are professional athletes, we learn over the years to play with the pain.
"It's just a case whether that pain is bearable or not.
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) January 29, 2021
"Coming off from the hard training block and having ATP Cup and the Australian Open around the corner, you don't want to risk it too much.
"But the emotion in me was so strong to come out to the court today.
"Seeing the full stands - I had to play."
Djokovic and others among the tennis elite including Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal quarantined in Adelaide in the lead-up to the Australian Open in Melbourne starting February 8.
The South Australian government created the exhibition event for the day of their release, Friday.
Djokovic, on release from hotel confines, said at the park earlier in the day that he was "thrilled to be out" of quarantine.