Novak Djokovic is glad to be back on Australian shores, but the Serbian tennis superstar has admitted his deportation prior to last year's Australian Open will not easily be forgotten. The 35-year-old made a much quieter arrival in Adelaide this year in comparison to the fiasco that erupted after he was found to have arrived in Melbourne without a valid exemption for being vaccinated against COVID-19.
The usual three-year visa ban for travellers deported from Australia was waived in Djokovic's case, since rules requiring overseas visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 were dropped in mid-2022. Djokovic's absence from Melbourne Park allowed longtime rival Rafael Nadal to break the three-way tie between themselves and Roger Federer for the most grand slam wins of all time.
Though Djokovic would later earn his 21st grand slam at Wimbledon, Nadal's victory at the French Open still leaves him ahead of the Serbian star. Deprived of a genuine shot to break the tie on his own terms, Djokovic said he hoped 'never again' to experience the kind of furore that erupted upon his arrival in January.
Djokovic said he was ready to rekindle his love affair with the country on his quest for a tenth Australian Open title and had so far been welcomed with open arms despite his messy exit last time around. "It's great to be back in Australia," he told reporters.
"Obviously what happened twelve months ago was not easy for me, for my family, team, anybody who is close to me. It's obviously disappointing to leave the country like that. You can't forget those events.
"It's one of these things that stays with you for I guess the rest of your life. It's something that I've never experienced before and hopefully never again. But it is a valuable life experience for me and something that as I said will stay there but I have to move on. Coming back to Australia speaks how I feel about this country, how I feel about playing here."
Novak Djokovic hopeful of friendly reception at Australian Open
Djokovic, a nine-time winner at Melbourne Park, said he was hopeful of a positive reception from fans. There was widespread support for Djokovic's deportation at the time, given much of Australia was in the midst of a push to vaccinate as many people as possible.
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley has already called on fans to give the former champion an appropriate reception. Djokovic himself said he was hopeful the tennis world had moved on from the debacle.
"It's a country where I've had tremendous success in my career, particularly in Melbourne. It's by far my most successful grand slam," he said. "I'm hoping that everything is going to be positive. Obviously (fan reaction) is not something that I can predict. I'll do my best to play good tennis and bring good emotions and good feelings to the crowd."
Serbia failed to qualify for the United Cup, the new Australian-based mixed team tournament that kicks off the 2023 ATP and WTA tours, but Djokovic said his preference had been to return via Adelaide anyway.
"I chose Adelaide because I wanted to get a tournament ahead of the Australian Open and I thought the Union (sic) Cup was a bit too early for me," he said. "I just wanted a normal 250 event."
The Adelaide International begins on New Year's Day and will also play host to top-ten players Felix Auger-Aliassime, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev.
"It's really not a 250 event, it seems like it's a 500 event or maybe even a 1000. Some of the best players in the world are playing here," Djokovic said.
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