Novak Djokovic was warmly welcomed on his first return to Melbourne since he was detained and banned from entering Australia due to his vaccination status.
tennis star was deported this time last year because he hadn’t received his COVID vaccines.
This meant he was unable to compete in the Australian Open, a tournament he won nine times, and faced a three-year ban order that prevented him from returning.
But the controversial decision was overturned in November.pave the way 21-time Grand Slam singles champion to make a dramatic comeback in the new year.
He plans to compete in the first major tennis event of 2023, which begins Monday, and played an exhibition match against maverick Nick Kyrgios in Melbourne on Friday.
Speaking about his return to Rod Laver Arena, the Serbian player said: “It’s a great feeling to be back in Australia, back in Melbourne.”
“This is the court and stadium where I created the best memories of my professional tennis career.
“I won a Grand Slam for the first time in 2008, it was here.
“And I’m here again 15 years later and racing at a high level.
“I should be so grateful for the opportunity to be here, so thank you guys for making me feel welcome tonight.”
Djokovic was visibly emotional as he walked off the pitch in front of a sold-out crowd of 15,000.
He admitted he wasn’t sure how he would be received as his deportation in a country that enforced some of the toughest border restrictions in the world during the pandemic has sparked conflicts of opinion.
The 35-year-old actress still hasn’t had her COVID vaccines, but the rules have been relaxed so she doesn’t need them.
Friday’s exhibition match against Australia’s top player Kyrgios was more of an opportunity for fun and games than any serious competition before the Grand Slam start date.
Both played against the crowd and showed no signs of being bothered by recent injuries.
The two could meet again as early as the quarterfinals of the opening, and Kyrgios will want to avenge his loss to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final last summer.
Kyrgios faces Roman Safiullin in the first round in Melbourne, while Djokovic plays Roberto Carballes Baena.
Raducanu ready for action
Meanwhile, in women’s singles, British Emma Raducanu has revealed she is fit to play as she looks set to recover from a tough 2022 fraught with fitness issues.
It was a doubt for the major after he rolled his ankle at a tournament in New Zealand last week.
“I’m feeling really good and I’m looking forward to getting on the field,” he said.
“It’s really a huge boost to my team here and in my hometown that helped get me to this place.”