Novak Djokovic admits his court battle and subsequent deportation from Australia took a major toll on him and he's using it as extra motivation heading into the French Open.
The World No.1 forfeited the opportunity to become the first men's player to win 21 grand slams at the Australian Open this year, when he attempted to enter the country despite being unvaccinated against Covid-19.
Travellers to Australia must be able to prove they have had two shots of a recognised Covid-19 vaccine, or have a medical exemption in order to obtain a visa.
Originally granted a visa based on a medical exemption based on approval from both Tennis Australia and the Victorian state government, Djokovic was detained by Australian border officials upon arrival after his medical exemption was not accepted.
Djokovic's visa was upheld after an initial court challenge, however several days later it was cancelled by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who used his discretionary powers to block the Serbian's visa.
A second appeal from Djokovic in the Federal Court was also unsuccessful, with the 34-year-old deported on the eve of the grand slam.
Longtime rival Rafael Nadal beat Djokovic to the 21 grand slam mark as a result, with the Serb's next opportunity to equal the Spaniard coming at the upcoming French Open, where he has already been permitted to play.
Speaking ahead of his 35th birthday, which also happens to be the opening day of the grand slam on Sunday, Djokovic said the saga had taken a toll.
"It's something that I never faced before," he said.
"The amount of pressure and everything that I was feeling in the first few months of the year, as much as I've felt pressure in my life and my career, that was something really on a whole different level.
“But I feel it’s already behind me. I feel great on the court. Mentally as well. I’m fresh. I’m sharp. Yeah, it’s just something that happened in the past.”
Novak Djokovic leaves the Marhaba lounge at Melbourne Airport for flight back to Europe. pic.twitter.com/Rg2D1XTTwW
— Shane McInnes (@shanemcinnes) January 16, 2022
Djokovic relishing French Open opportunity after deportation saga
Djokovic has played only five tournaments in 2022 but arrives in Paris buoyed by a sixth Italian Open title, becoming just the fifth man to win 1,000 career matches in the process.
It was his 38th Masters triumph, two more than Nadal at the top of the all-time list.
He did not drop a set in Rome as he finished a memorable week with a final victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas, the man he defeated from two sets down in the 2021 French Open title match.
With 13-time French Open champion Nadal suffering a recurrence of a foot injury, another Spaniard is likely to be Djokovic's biggest headache in Paris.
Carlos Alcaraz, just 19, has rocketed to six in the world on the back of four titles — three on clay — in 2022.
He won a second Masters title in Madrid, sweeping Nadal, Djokovic and third-ranked Alexander Zverev on the way.
"He definitely is special," admitted Djokovic of Alcaraz who also claimed the prestigious Miami Masters earlier in the year.
Alcaraz was ranked 97 this time last year. He was only two when Nadal won the first of his 13 French Opens in 2005 but he made his mark at the 2021 tournament where he came through qualifying to reach the third round.
Nadal comes into Paris with major question marks over his ability to lift a 14th title.
A rib injury in March was followed by the re-emergence in Rome of his chronic foot injury where he limped to defeat in the last-16.
The 35-year-old Spaniard is due to practice at Roland Garros for the first time on Wednesday where he will have his own doctor on hand to assess his fitness.
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