World No1 Novak Djokovic will be back on the ATP Tour next week, and he is ready to take his frustrations out on his opponents.
Djokovic has not played a competitive match for 11 weeks, thanks to the fuss over his vaccination status. Now he is preparing to rip through the field in Dubai – a state with few Covid protocols.
“Everything that has happened will affect my return in Dubai,” Djokovic told RTS, the Serbian state channel, in a TV interview broadcast on Thursday evening. “I will try to channel all this energy, to turn it into fuel both mentally and physically. There is extra motivation, surely.”
Earlier this week, Djokovic had told the BBC that he is prepared to sacrifice more grand-slam titles – and maybe even the chance of finishing atop the all-time leaderboard – in order to stay unvaccinated. He is the only man among the world’s top 100 who has not had the jab.
Even so, Djokovic should be able to play certain events, including Wimbledon, as long as there is no unexpected Covid resurgence over the spring and early summer.
Each tournament has its own rules, and for the moment Djokovic’s participation in May’s French Open looks uncertain. He would also be unable to travel to the USA according to current immigration guidelines.
As for the Australian Open – which recently became an international soap opera when Djokovic’s visa was cancelled, reinstated, and then cancelled again – he clearly remains fond of the tournament, even after his public humiliation at the hands of publicity-seeking politicians.
“I will always remember all the nice things that happened for me in Melbourne,” said Djokovic, in reference to an event that he has won a record nine times. “I had a lot of professional and personal beautiful moments there. Despite all this, I have a great connection with Australia. Results that I had in Melbourne show you how I feel when I go there.
“Everything that has happened this year was totally unexpected,” he added. “It will be hard to forget, but I want to come back to Australia in the future and to play on Rod Laver Arena again.”
Dubai is an ATP 500 event that will feature four members of the world’s top ten. However, both of the recent Australian Open finalists – Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev – will be playing in Acapulco next week instead, where Medvedev is poised to replace Djokovic as world No1 should he win the title.
During his RTS interview, Djokovic said that Medvedev had contacted him within 45 minutes of that extraordinary five-set defeat in Melbourne.
“Daniil is an extremely good guy,” said Djokovic. “We have a great and respectful relationship. I think he appreciates that I practised a lot with him and helped him when he was a junior, gave him advice and answered some questions. We were on the same plane when Russia played Davis Cup in Serbia, he was very thankful for that. Our relationship keeps growing.
“He texted me 45 minutes after the finals, which surprised me. Content of the message is private, but it was supportive, both ways. He is very authentic and speaks his mind on every stage, he is not always politically correct, which many people won’t like. He reminds me of myself in that regard.”
Medvedev gave an emotional press conference after the final in which he said that the kid in him had “stopped dreaming” because of the partisan nature of the crowd.