The Serbian star admits that the fallout of his Australian visa and vaccine row left him reeling.
World number one Novak Djokovic has opened up on the fallout he experienced following his controversial deportation from Australia earlier this year after the Serbian star fell foul of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions in advance of the first Grand Slam event of 2022, the Australian Open.
After prolonged legal wrangling, which included detention by Australian Border Force officials and an enforced stay at processing facility in Melbourne, Djokovic was ultimately booted out of the country following a scandal which reached the very top level of the Australian government.
Djokovic, is unvaccinated against Covid-19, has been forced to withdraw from several events – including two in the United States – since then and is currently playing in just his fourth tournament of the year at the Madrid Open.
With restrictions loosening now in most major countries, Djokovic appears poised to make a comeback to full schedule tennis – but speaking with the Tennis Channel this week, the 20-time Grand Slam winner admitted that the events earlier this year affected him mentally and emotionally.
World No. 1 @DjokerNole opens up about how his mindset has changed since the beginning of this year.
— Tennis Channel International (@TennisChanneli) May 5, 2022
“I was at the beginning after I came back from Australia, I must admit that I was a little bit maybe underestimating the emotional state that I was in. I thought, you know, well, I’m out of Australia. You know, it is what it is. What happened, happened. I’m moving on,” he said.
“But then I did feel for the months to come that the emotional and mental traces of what was happening there were still there and I just felt, maybe in the last few weeks, I started to kind of get out of that a little bit and move on and transform that into fuel and positive energy, you know?”
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Djokovic’s initial comeback to the tennis court was uninspiring. He was defeated by the world’s 123rd ranked player, Jiri Vesely, at a tournament in Dubai in February and also endured an early exit at the Monte-Carlo Masters last month.
“But it was kind of a a situation or a circumstances that I never faced in my life before. As many years as I’ve been on the tour and as much experience I have on the, in the tennis ecosystem on and off the court and being involved also in the player council and tennis politics and press and everything,” said the 34-year-old.
“I consider myself quite experienced with different kinds of thing, factors that are part of our, my life and you know, tennis ecosystem, but still this was something that was completely, you know, unexpected and so it did take a toll on me.
“So I think more mentally, emotionally than physically because I was just trying to figure things out, go back to that optimal balance state of mind, mind and body and soul and just try to approach the next tournament as any other and that was my mindset.
“But then I realized that when I started to play official matches that it’s actually not easy to just finish off with that. You know, I had to still deal with that feeling of being… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. I don’t have any words for that particularly but it’s just that feeling that was kind of holding me back a little bit, particularly in the first couple of tournaments. In those matches I felt like I wasn’t myself. I was, you know, a bit more nervous than usual and just kind of in a defensive mode, mentally, when I start to play points officially.”
Djokovic appeared to steady the ship in his home country of Serbia, reaching the final there before losing to Andrey Rublev – but he says the support he received from his compatriots helped get him back on an even keel.
“So it took me a little but of time to go through that, and I think in Serbia with the crowd support and the great energy I experienced there, it really helped me to go through it.
“So you know, hopefully from now onwards it will go back to optimal balance that I need in order to perform my best.”
Djokovic will continue his pursuit of a record-equaling 21st Grand Slam at the upcoming French Open and Wimbledon events, after both announced there would be no requirements for players to be vaccinated.