Tennis great Todd Woodbridge has accused Novak Djokovic of playing mind games with Nick Kyrgios after pointing out the 21-time grand slam champion's snub of his Aussie rival. Djokovic and Kyrgios are set to play in a sold-out exhibition match on Rod Laver Arena on Friday, ahead of the first grand slam tournament of the year at Melbourne Park.
Djokovic came out on top when he defeated Kyrgios in last year's Wimbledon final to claim his 21st grand slam singles title and many good judges would put the Aussie alongside the Serb as one of the heavyweights at the Australian Open, which gets underway on Monday.
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However, Woodbridge says when he asked Djokovic about who he thought the biggest threats were of denying the 35-year-old a record-extending 10th Australian Open crown, the Serb neglected to mention the Aussie star. Woodbridge said he thought it was a deliberate ploy from the Serbian superstar to mess with Kyrgios' head in the lead-up to the year's first grand slam.
"I asked him about who he thinks the contenders are, and he went through (Rafael) Nadal and (Jannik) Sinner and (Casper) Ruud and I said 'no Kyrgios?', Woodbridge told Nine's Today Show about his exclusive interview with the 21-time grand slam champion.
" He just smiled and said 'of course there's Nick Kyrgios and we know what he can do'. Then he just moved on and he said 'I hope he's ready, he hasn't had a great preparation.'
"And he laid a few things out for Nick to think about... which is a bit of locker room talk and jargon out getting in each other's heads and they like to do that those two, it makes some good drama for us all."
Friday's exhibition match between Kyrgios and Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena cost just $20 for fans and took less than 60 minutes to sell out, prompting a swipe from the fiery Aussie towards his critics. “Wow Nick Kyrgios is bad for the sport! Wow what a disgrace, a national embarrassment! How dare he sell out another stadium, the arrogance,” Kyrgios tweeted in response.
The match between the Aussie and the 21-time grand slam winner is one of several practice matches being played on Rod Laver Arena before the Australian Open gets underway. Wednesday's match between Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev saw the Serb leave the court with an apparent hamstring issue after just 36 minutes, having lost the first set 6-4.
The worrying signs sparked concerns around Djokovic's fitness ahead of the Australian Open but Woodbridge says his withdrawal from the practice match was "precautionary", after the Serb also appeared to have issues during his victory over the Russian in Adelaide last week. "From what he (Djokovic) said to me, he's good to go," Woodbridge added.
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The doubles great backed tennis supporters in Australia to get behind Djokovic after last year's drama that saw him deported over visa issues. It comes after Australian Open boss Craig Tiley warned fans that they will be removed from Melbourne Park if they 'taunt' the 21-time grand slam champion over his vaccination saga.
"There will be some outliers that are going to try to make a name for themselves but they're not really welcome," Woodbridge said. Everybody else wants to see him play his best tennis. He's playing superb. He has a point to prove in the sense that he is chasing down Rafa (Nadal's all-time men's record of 22 grand slam titles).
"Because he didn't get down here last year, Rafa won the tournament, got in front of him. He pulled it back at Wimbledon (by beating Kyrgios in the final). That's what this is about. Nadal is very much in his mind."
Djokovic, who won his 92nd tournament at the Adelaide International, was full of praise for the reception he got from fans in Adelaide but admitted it could be a different story at the Australian Open. "I don't know [about Melbourne], but I hope positive. I really hope the crowd will be receiving me well," he said.
"That's something that I can't predict, I don't know. It's in their hands I guess. I'll try and do my best to perform well, to have the relationship and behave as I always have and try to be a good ambassador of the sport, and hopefully that can be recognised in a good way."
Djokovic also reiterated that he "followed all the rules" before his infamous deportation saga last year, once again questioning his treatment from Australian officials. "Two or three more people that came into Australia 10 days before I did with exactly the same exemption that I had. I was just following the rules. My exemption was verified by an independent body and panel of doctors," he said.
"I came in with all the valid papers. Everything got out of hand and then I was labelled this or that," Djokovic added. All of a sudden, I became the villain of the world which was obviously a terrible position to be in as an athlete and someone who is looking to thrive in his own direction of life and profession."
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