Novak Djokovic received a raucous welcome back to Melbourne Park on Friday as he entered court for his Fast 4 practice clash against Nick Kyrgios, but the occasion may have surprised him as the 21-time grand slam champ forgot the rules of the game. Djokovic hadn't played a match on Rod Laver Arena since his deportation a year earlier, due to the circumstances surrounding his vaccination status.
Australian Open boss Craig Tiley had raised concerns over how Djokovic would be received by the crowd upon his return. But all fears were dispelled when Djokovic was welcomed back to a raucous cheer.
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However, it wasn't all smooth sailing for the nine-time Australian Open champ. In just the second game of the Fast4 format, Kyrgios served a let.
But rules state that lets are in play in the Fast4 format, which Djokovic clearly forgot as he let the ball run. Kyrgios couldn't help but smile as the chair umpire awarded the point to the Australian. Djokovic looked up at the umpire with his hands on his head, before realising his mistake.
"Novak forgot. Nick, with his tennis IQ very high and a memory like an elephant, didn't forget," the commentator said with a laugh. The crowd burst into laughter as Djokovic also cracked a smile after realising his gaffe.
Regardless of the blunder, it was the warm reception Djokovic received that had the tennis world talking. Rod Laver Arena sold out within 58 minutes for the practice clash between Kyrgios and Djokovic.
And the crowd was clearly thrilled to see the pair take to the court and enjoy a jovial warm-up ahead of their Australian Open campaigns.
Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic warm-up
While the match was played in good spirits, both Kyrgios and Djokovic headed into the warm-up under injury clouds. However the nine-time Australian Open winner showed no signs of the hamstring issue that has troubled him this month and repeatedly played up to the crowd during the light-hearted hit-out for charity.
Kyrgios pulled out of the recent United Cup and Adelaide International tournaments with knee and ankle complaints and has not played a serious match since late last year.
But Australia's top-ranked player - the host nation's best shot at another Open crown after Ash Barty's drought-breaking victory last year - moved well against Djokovic in a positive sign for his hopes of going deep into the second week.
Djokovic, who beat Kyrgios in last year's Wimbledon final and is on a quarter-final collision course with the local firebrand in Melbourne, was full of praise for the 19th seed, who takes on World No.98 Roman Safiullin in the first round.
"He's 2-1 against me, so as far as I'm concerned he can win anything," Djokovic said.
Djokovic opens his bid for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title against Spaniard Roberto Carballes Baena.
And following the match, Djokovic opened up about the reception he received back at the venue where he has won a record nine grand slams
"It just feels great to be back in Australia, back in Melbourne," Djokovic said.
"This is the court and the stadium where I created the best memories of my professional tennis career.
"Back in 2008 was the first time I won a grand slam, it was here, and 15 years later I'm here again and I'm competing at the high level.
"I must be very grateful for this opportunity to be here so thank you guys (the fans) for welcoming me in a good way tonight."
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