Australian Open: Djokovic feeling 'so much love' as he makes strong start to history bid

By Sports Desk January 17, 2023

Novak Djokovic set off on his Melbourne mission to match Rafael Nadal's haul of 22 grand slams, promising: "I know how to handle it."

The title favourite and nine-time champion swept through his first Australian Open match in two years, beating Spain's Roberto Carballes Baena 6-3 6-4 6-0.

Deported from Melbourne last year amid a vaccination saga, and denied the chance to defend his title, Djokovic received a rousing welcome on Rod Laver Arena.

"I felt very welcome on the court," Djokovic said. "Especially the Serbian community that is big here in Australia has welcomed me in an incredible way. So much support. So much love."

The 35-year-old from Belgrade dropped just four points in the closing set, with the hamstring injury that hampered his preparation seemingly giving him no fresh cause for concern.

"The leg is good. It's not ideal, but it's getting there. Today was a really good test," he added.

Djokovic will join Nadal at the top of the men's all-time list of slam triumphs should he pick up a 10th title at Melbourne Park next week. He may soon be looking at overtaking Margaret Court, who won 24 singles slams, the most by any player.

"They're just numbers in the end of the day," Djokovic said, when asked about the targets in his sights.

"I've been in the situations before where I've played for some really big historic things, and I've been blessed to have I would say more success than failures in those particular situations.

"I know how to behave, I know how to handle it. Let's see how far I can go."

Mother Dijana and father Srdan have joined Djokovic in Australia this year, as has brother Marko.

His parents have not made the trip to Melbourne since 2008, the year Djokovic won a first grand slam in Australia.

"Well it's really not around the corner from Serbia. Australia is a pretty long way," said Djokovic, explaining why they usually stayed away.

"That's probably the biggest reason. They've come to watch me in Paris, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon, US Open. In particular, Australian Open has been a bit of a trip for my parents particularly.

"I'm really glad to have them here. The last time they were here, actually the only time they were here, was back in 2008. We have some great memories and considerations about the time that they spent here together now 15 years ago. Hopefully they can stay all the way, I can stay all the way, and we can have another great celebration."

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    One of the first thoughts that came into Liam Broady’s mind when he achieved a decade-long goal by securing a place in the top 100 was for the people who gave up on him.

    By reaching the final of last week’s second-tier Challenger tournament in St Tropez, Broady guaranteed he would rise to 93 in the rankings when they are updated on Wednesday.

    It is 12 years since the Stockport player, who is now 29, reached the boys’ final at Wimbledon and he told the PA news agency of his emotions, saying: “Mainly relief.

    “The thing that’s been the goal that’s kept me going for 10 years has been ‘I will be top 100 one day’.

    “It’s funny, with this stuff you never feel as good as you think, once you do it you’re like, ‘Oh is that it’? Now I’m already thinking about how can we finish the year strong, how can I go to Australia and maximise at the start of next year. But it is a big weight off my shoulders.

    “I don’t know why but you always see a player who’s been in the top 100 differently. Even if someone’s made 99 and someone’s been 101, there’s a different sort of aura about that and I’ve been conscious of that for years.

    “There have been plenty of British players that have been fantastic but never managed to cross that final hurdle. I didn’t want the same thing for myself, I wanted to be within that holy grail.”

    It has been a rollercoaster of a career for Broady, who hit such a mental low a few years ago that he came close to quitting the sport.

    He has had a turbulent relationship both with the Lawn Tennis Association and his father, who severed ties with the federation when Broady was a junior after his sister and fellow player Naomi had her funding cut.

    Broady went against his father’s wishes by turning to the LTA before refusing funding again in order to try to repair the relationship, but the final blow came courtesy of the federation.

    “I remember past regimes at the LTA – and I don’t hold the current situation responsible for this – but when I did get my funding cut I think I was 23 years old,” he said.

    “And at the time they had this algorithm, they’d worked out statistically how many players make top 100 past a certain age and how long they stay there for and they had a stat that basically it wasn’t worth a player making it past the age of 23 or whatever it was.

    “I remember Jo Konta at the time had had her funding cut and then the next year she made top 100 and as we all know, had a fantastic career.

    “That was something that stuck with me for many years and that was one of the first things I thought of and I hope that people that have gone through stuff that I’ve gone through and have lost belief and had people tell them, ‘It’s too late, you’re not going to make it’ – if you’re willing to put in the work and the sacrifice, there’s no telling when you’re going to make it.

    “Even if you make it for a week or for a year, it’s worth it in the end, I can attest to that.”

    Broady freely admits he has not always helped himself with a lack of professionalism in his younger days but he has been on a steadily upward curve over the last four years.

    This season he has performed consistently at Challenger level, while he achieved a career-best victory over then world number four Casper Ruud to reach the third round at Wimbledon.

    By his side for most of the last 10 years has been coach Dave Sammel, who Broady credits for helping him navigate choppy waters on and off court.

    “I’ve been through a lot of stuff,” he said. “But Dave was there from the start and he always believed.

    “I think he’d be the first to say he’s had times where the belief has wobbled but he’s a great crisis management coach and that’s what I’ve kind of needed. He’s been probably the steadiest influence in my life over the last 10 years.

    “I had a lot of stuff going on with my family, I had a lot of stuff going on all over the place, I’m a very chaotic person by nature. And Dave has been an emotional rock for me on and off the court and combined with that, he’s a great tennis coach.”

    With top 100 ticked off, Broady is spending a few days back home for the first time since May and his priority over the remaining weeks of the year is to ensure he makes it into the main draw of a grand slam on ranking for the first time at the Australian Open.

    So how high could Broady go?

    “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m interested to see. Ask me in a year’s time. Once you’re in the top 100, I think it all comes down to runs you can go on.

    “If you play well at the right tournaments then you can go as high as anyone. I’ve got no experience of knowing what that feels like so I’m just excited.”

  • Lopez unsure if Spain's Nadal-led golden generation will be repeated Lopez unsure if Spain's Nadal-led golden generation will be repeated

    Feliciano Lopez has doubts whether Spain's golden generation led by Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz will ever be replicated.

    With Nadal's glittering career nearing its end, the torch for Spanish tennis has been passed on to Alcaraz, who at just 20 has already won Wimbledon and the US Open.

    The pair have now combined for over half of Spain's grand slam titles, and while Lopez feels his nation will have more success in the future, the former world number 12 has concerns whether it will match the levels that Nadal produced. 

    "I believe that we are not going to experience the generation of Spanish tennis players that we lived through again," Lopez told Stats Perform. "People have to be clear about that.

    "But that does not mean that there will not be other great tennis players that will represent the country very well in the coming years.

    "I don't know Spanish tennis in the minor categories, beyond some names that have been told to me, but I know that there are kids of 16 or 17 who play well.

    "In the end, I think Spanish tennis has been in a place that is very difficult to get back to, but I'm sure that apart from Carlitos, there will be other young players who will bring us joy during the next four, five or six years."

    Alcaraz has reached at least the semi-finals in the last four grand slam tournaments he has played, winning two of them, and Lopez has faith that he can carry the torch for Spanish tennis once Nadal calls it a day.

    "Spanish tennis is in the hands of Carlitos and when Rafa announces his retirement, the entire country will want him to win," Lopez added. 

    "He has already won two grand slams and has been number one. It is a blessing to have a player like Carlos at a time when Rafa has a year left to retire."

    Nadal's decorated career has coincided with a great era of Spanish sport, with the nation's male and female football teams both winning World Cup titles while they have also enjoyed success in the likes of basketball and motorsport.

    Lopez takes pride in his country's sporting achievements, explaining: "A country like Spain that is not a world power, and sport does not have the aid that neighbouring countries invest, in the last 20 years, has not stopped winning titles in all disciplines: Tennis, football, and basketball."

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    That is the opinion of Feliciano Lopez, who hopes to see Nadal overcome his injury woes to enjoy a triumphant send-off in 2024.

    Nadal's total of 22 grand slam titles is only bettered by Djokovic among male players, with the Serbian matching Margaret Court's overall record by winning the US Open.

    Djokovic has won three of four grand slams in 2023, with injuries leading Nadal to miss the last three majors after he was eliminated from the Australian Open by Mackenzie McDonald in January.

    Nadal confirmed earlier this year that 2024 would "probably" be his last year on the tour, and former world number nine Lopez is desperate to see his compatriot go out on a high.

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    "It would be a dream for me and many people to see him lift that cup once again.

    "It is very difficult for me to talk about Rafa, because he has changed the way we see sport in Spain. Before Rafa we had great athletes, but none transcended sport the way he has.

    "Rafa's figure in Spanish sport and in the lives of Spanish people… there will be none like him. 

    "There have been many joys that he has given us. He has given us examples in many situations outside of sports. There will be a before and after [Nadal] in Spanish sport."

    While Nadal now looks highly unlikely to match the evergreen Djokovic for total grand slam titles, Lopez does not believe that will concern the 37-year-old.

    "The issue of numbers and who is bigger than who fuels the media a lot," Lopez added. "At this moment in Rafa's life, I don't think he is thinking about that.

    "With the numbers, we can see who won the most things, but that is not the question. I want him to return so he can compete again for one last year at the highest level. 

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