Novak Djokovic admitted Thursday that being deported from Australia was an experience he will never forget, but it was time to move on, as he enjoyed a warm welcome in Adelaide.
The Serbian star, who will bid for a men’s record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open next month, returned to the country on Tuesday, almost a year after being kicked out after a legal battle for refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
He was banned from returning for three years, but Australia has since lifted its requirement for visitors to show proof of vaccination status and a new government in Canberra confirmed last month that the Serb was no longer barred.
“It’s one of those things that sticks with you, stays with you for, I guess, the rest of your life,” Djokovic said in his first comments since arriving for the Adelaide International.
“As I said, (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 will stay there, but I have to move on.
“Coming back to Australia speaks to how I feel about this country, how I feel about playing here.”
Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said this week he hoped local fans would embrace Djokovic’s return, and the nine-time Australian Open champion said he had so far felt no animosity.
“I’ve been here only two days but from the people in the hotel to the airport to people at the tournament and at the club, everyone has been really pleasant, really, really nice to me so all good for now,” he said.
“I always felt great in Australia, always, you know, played my best tennis, received a lot of support, so hopefully I can have another great summer.”
The 35-year-old was unable to compete in two of the four majors this year, with his vaccination stance meaning he was also forced to sit out the US Open.
However, he finished his 2022 campaign with a bang, winning titles in Tel Aviv, Astana and the ATP Finals in Turin, as well as reaching the final of the Paris Masters.
He also picked up trophies in Rome and Wimbledon and tallied up a 42-7 win-loss record throughout the season.
“I always have faith in myself and believe that I can win every tournament that I play in and I think with the career that I had, I feel like I deserve to have that kind of mental approach,” he said.
“Things are obviously different (now). Lots of young guys on the tour, a kind of shift of generations but you know, Nadal and myself, still going strong from the older guys.”
Despite being 35, Djokovic said he believed more Grand Slam success was possible and he could fend off the younger generation for some time yet.
“I know what I need to do in order to compete with them, in order to be one of the contenders for the title here and in Melbourne,” he said.
“The good memories and good history that I have on Australian soil gives me a lot of positive emotions and belief that I can do it again and I can go far.”