Shock crowd act as Novak Djokovic makes return to tennis in Dubai

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Novak Djokovic, pictured here getting an incredible ovation from the crowd in Dubai.
Novak Djokovic got an incredible ovation from the crowd in Dubai. Image: Tennis TV/AAP

Novak Djokovic has received a huge ovation from the crowd in Dubai after taking to the court for his first match since being deported from Australia in January.

Djokovic returned to the ATP Tour on Monday against Lorenzo Musetti at the Dubai Tennis Championships - his first match since having his visa cancelled in the lead-up to the Australian Open.

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In stark contrast to what probably would have occurred in Melbourne had Djokovic been allowed to play the Australian Open, the World No.1 was greeted with loud cheers as he made his way out onto court on Monday.

Many would have suspected some backlash for the Serbian star after he admitted last week that he won't get vaccinated in order to play tennis tournaments.

However he was treated to the exact opposite as fans showed their delight to see the 20-time grand slam champion back in action.

Djokovic showed little rust despite not playing since the Davis Cup finals in December, dispatching Musetti 6-3 6-3.

On the only previous occasion the pair met (at Roland Garros last year), Musetti took a two-set lead with successive tie-break victories.

Djokovic then won 16 of the next 17 games before an exhausted Musetti retired at 0-4 in the final set.

The 19-year-old wildcard went for his shots again on Monday, showing no fear as he went toe-to-toe with the Serbian champion.

Novak Djokovic, pictured here celebrating after beating Lorenzo Musetti in Dubai.
Novak Djokovic celebrates after beating Lorenzo Musetti in Dubai. (Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images)

But Djokovic was simply too good, winning in 73 minutes.

Djokovic said he was a little rusty at times, but "that is to be expected" and he "very much enjoyed" being in front of a crowd again.

"I couldn't ask for a better reception. I couldn't pick a better place to kick-start the season," he said.

"All in all it was a very pleasant experience for me."

The Dubai Tennis Championships don't have a vaccination requirement for players, meaning it is one of the few events that Djokovic is able to play while unvaccinated.

Fans on social media were stunned to see the vocal support for Djokovic in Dubai.

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The 34-year-old's hopes of winning a 10th Australian Open title and 21st grand slam in Melbourne last month were shattered when he had his visa cancelled and was deported.

He spoke to reporters on Sunday night about how it felt to be back on the tennis circuit, and whether there has been any negative reaction from his peers.

"So far here most of the players that I've seen have been positive and welcoming," he said.

"It's nice to see obviously. I can't say that was the case in Australia.

"It was a little bit strange. But here it's well so far."

Novak Djokovic fans, pictured here cheering ahead of his first match at the Dubai Tennis Championship.
Novak Djokovic fans cheer ahead of his first match at the Dubai Tennis Championship. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Rafa Nadal, who in Djokovic's absence won the Australian Open, offered long-distance support.

"Vaccinated or unvaccinated, let Novak play again," Nadal said at a press conference ahead of the Mexican Open in Acapulco, where he and World No.2 Daniil Medvedev are playing.

"It will affect his history, whether he can play or not, it will affect himself, the grand slams, I don't know what."

Nadal added that "we are talking about small things within a world that has suffered in every way."

Djokovic is a five-time winner in Dubai and finally started his season with a point to prove and his No.1 ranking under threat.

Even if he wins in Dubai, Djokovic could lose the top spot (which he has held since February 2020) to Medvedev.

If Djokovic defends his status this week, his refusal to get vaccinated could cause problems and cost him ranking points, particularly with two Masters tournaments coming up in the United States.

He is on the entry list at Indian Wells from March 7-20, even though it is currently restricted to vaccinated players. That is followed by the Miami Open from March 21 - April 3.

"I just have to follow the rules. Whatever tournament that I'm able to play, I'll be trying to get to that country and play the tournament," Djokovic said on Sunday.

"I really can't choose right now. It's really about where I can go and play.

"Wherever I have an opportunity, I'll be using probably that opportunity and going to play because this is what I do, it's what I love to do still."

with agencies

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