Australian Open: Djokovic thankful to avoid hostile welcome, but Kyrgios sends him sprawling on Rod Laver Arena

By Sports Desk January 13, 2023

Novak Djokovic returned to action in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena crowd for the first time in two years, and declared: "It's great to be back."

The nine-time Australian Open champion was denied a role in last year's tournament when his vaccination status, having refused a COVID-19 jab, led to him being detained in a Melbourne immigration centre and later deported.

He was briefly released in January 2022 to practise at Melbourne Park before the tournament began, only to be effectively thrown out of the country days later.

With Australia's border controls having since been relaxed, and vaccination status no longer a condition of entry, Djokovic has had the red carpet rolled out this year, befitting his status as the most successful male singles player in the Australian Open's history.

He faced Nick Kyrgios in an exhibition match on Friday evening in Melbourne, with the stadium court sold out and the match screened on national television.

Kyrgios won 4-3 2-4 10-9, in what was a largely light-hearted encounter, a jumped-up practice session. It inevitably lacked the intensity of their last meeting, when Djokovic prevailed in four sets in the 2022 Wimbledon final.

A fierce backhand from Kyrgios in the match tie-break briefly caught out Djokovic, who was wrong-footed and volleyed out of court before slumping to the floor as though shot.

There was more than a little dramatic licence about his fall, and about the match in general, typified by the pair being joined on court by wheelchair players and a pair of leading juniors for the decisive tie-break.

The result did not matter, though it will if these two meet in the quarter-finals of the year's opening grand slam, as they might after the draw was revealed on Thursday.

Djokovic, who did not appear hampered by a recent hamstring niggle, told the crowd: "It just feels great to be back in Australia, back in Melbourne.

"This is the court and the stadium where I created the best memories of my tennis career. Back in 2008 it was the first time I won a grand slam here, and 15 years later I'm here again, and I'm competing at a high level, so I must be grateful for this opportunity to be here.

"Thank you guys for welcoming me in a good way tonight, I appreciate it."

It was a night for jollity and camaraderie, but should both reach that quarter-final date, Djokovic said: "I don't think we'll be this friendly to each other."

Kyrgios, who defended Djokovic during last year's January crisis, said of the 35-year-old Serbian: "It's so important to have him around.

"One of the greatest already left us last year, Roger [Federer], and I don't think we actually knew how special the guys are to our sport, so every time Novak's around at these events I want to beat him, even though I can't at a grand slam."

The Australian Open begins on Monday, when Djokovic facing Spain's Roberto Carballes Baena first. Djokovic is chasing a 22nd grand slam title, which would equal the men's singles record held by Rafael Nadal.

Kyrgios, yet to win a singles slam, starts against Russian Roman Safiullin.

Related items

  • Raducanu breezes into second round at Eastbourne Raducanu breezes into second round at Eastbourne

    Emma Raducanu is through to the second round at Eastbourne after a commanding straight-sets victory over Sloane Stephens on Tuesday.

    Despite an early scare, Raducanu cruised through, winning 6-4 6-0 in just one hour 17 minutes.

    Raducanu and Stephens traded blows early on in the first set, with both getting double breaks to stay neck-and-neck before the Briton edged it in the final game by breaking the American's serve once more.

    She then brushed Stephens aside in just 25 minutes for the second without dropping a single game, to set up a meeting with Jessica Pegula in the next round.

    Data Debrief: Raducanu in control

    Raducanu finished off the match in style, winning the last nine games in a row, and broke Sloane's serve six times.

    The 21-year-old finished with 23 winners to just 13 unforced errors to tee up a marquee match-up in the second round.

  • Djokovic will only play Wimbledon if title in reach after surgery Djokovic will only play Wimbledon if title in reach after surgery

    Novak Djokovic will only play at Wimbledon if he feels he has a chance of winning the tournament, with a decision on his involvement to be made before Friday's draw.

    Djokovic tore the medial meniscus in his right knee at the French Open earlier this month, withdrawing ahead of a scheduled quarter-final against Casper Ruud.

    He underwent surgery on the injury less than three weeks ago but still travelled to SW19 on Monday and was seen out on the practice courts.

    However, the Serbian will only participate if he feels he has a realistic chance of an eighth Wimbledon crown, which would equal Roger Federer's all-time record. 

    "I didn't come here to play a few rounds," Djokovic told BBC Sport. "You can never know 100% what is going to happen at a tournament, but I'm going to make a decision based on the feeling that I have.

    "If I know I can play close to my maximum or at maximum, then I'll play. If not, then I'll give somebody else a chance to play."

    Asked if his maximum meant a title push, Djokovic replied: "That's why I'm here. 

    "I don't plan to retire or for this to be my last Wimbledon. The injury happened at an unfortunate moment but it's part of the sport."

    Having gone through a two-hour session with bandaging on his affected knee on Monday, Djokovic added his recovery is going well and said he will give himself as much time as possible to make a decision.

    "It's been going well. Rehab is going in the right direction every single day, a few per cent better and better. That's what's giving me hope and encouragement," he said.

    "I still have a week left, which is plenty of time. I'm going to give my best to have a clear understanding of where I am before the draw is made, and we'll take it from there.

    "I'm taking things gradually. I'm not pushing myself 100% yet but I'm hoping that's going to come in the next few days."

  • Raducanu 'grateful' and 'excited' having 'rekindled the love for tennis' Raducanu 'grateful' and 'excited' having 'rekindled the love for tennis'

    Emma Raducanu is thrilled to have "rekindled" her love for tennis, with the former US Open champion admitting she is "in a lot better spirits on and off the court".

    The world number 168, who had not played since the Madrid Open in April, marked her return from injury with a run to the Nottingham Open semi-finals just over a week ago. 

    Last year, Raducanu underwent wrist and ankle surgery that, at one point, confined her to a mobility scooter, but she has prioritised fitness over competition during the 2024 season.

    Having missed the French Open to focus on preparing for the grass-court season, she has also opted not to participate for Great Britain in the forthcoming Olympics.

    The 21-year-old is now stepping up her preparations for Wimbledon, which continue when she faces Sloane Stephens in Eastbourne on Tuesday.

    And Raducanu will enter the contest against her fellow former Flushing Meadows champion with a real spring in her step.

    "I really feel like I'm in a lot better spirits on and off the court," she told BBC TV. "It's a nice feeling for me because it hasn't always been the case.

    "I'm very happy to have rekindled the love for tennis and just enjoying the challenges that come with it and not getting so down about it, just trying a way to go around.

    "I'm just really grateful to have this feeling again because it's something that I feel like I've been missing in a way for the last few years.

    "I haven't felt this good about my tennis and excited about it and passionate for a long, long time."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.