Tennis: Djokovic hopes for warm welcome on Australian Open return

AFP , Saturday 24 Dec 2022

Novak Djokovic is hoping he will receive a warm welcome from the public when he returns to the Australian Open next month, now that the drama surrounding his vaccination status and deportation is officially behind him.

Djokovic
Serbia s Novak Djokovic celebrates defeating Austria s Sebastian Ofner during the 2022 World Tennis League exhibition match at Dubai s Coca-Cola arena in the United Arab Emirates, on December 23, 2022. (AFP)

 

A nine-time champion at Melbourne Park, Djokovic was unable to compete in the opening Grand Slam of the season in 2022 after he was deported from Australia over fears he would incite anti-vax sentiment.

As a result of his deportation, Djokovic was banned from entering Australia again but that decision has been reversed and the world number five is pleased he will get the chance to vie for a 10th title in Melbourne and a men’s record-equalling 22nd major crown overall.

"I always ask the best from myself so let's see. Over the years I've been really fortunate to start very strong in Australia and I love playing there," Djokovic told reporters at the World Tennis League in Dubai on Friday.

"After obviously what happened earlier this year, hopefully I can have a decent reception there and hopefully that can help me play some good tennis."

The 35-year-old Djokovic was unable to compete in two of the four majors this year as his vaccination stance meant he was also forced to sit out the US Open.

However, he finished his 2022 campaign with a bang, winning titles in Tel Aviv, Astana and the ATP Finals in Turin, as well as reaching the final of the Paris Masters.

He also picked up trophies in Rome and Wimbledon and tallied up a 42-7 win-loss record throughout the season.

The Serb had mentioned in the past he would like to play into his 40s.

Asked if he still felt that way, Djokovic said: "I would like to play as long as I possibly can. I don't have really any number in my head. Things are progressing so far pretty well for me. I can't complain. So as long as I play at this level, as long as I have the fire, I'll keep going."

Meanwhile, world number one Iga Swiatek was happy to see herself land in the fifth spot on Forbes' annual list of the world's highest-paid female athletes.

However, the 21-year-old Pole admits she hopes to expand her endorsement portfolio so her earnings aren't just dependent on her performances on court.

According to Forbes, Swiatek has made $14.9 million over the past year, $9.9 million of which came from tournament prize money.

Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams – who have spent significantly less time competing on tour in 2022 – are the top two athletes on the list, with the former reportedly earning $51.1 million and the latter making $41.3 million.

"It's not my motivation. The most fun I have on court is when I actually don't think about things like that," assured Swiatek, who won eight titles in 2022, including two Grand Slams.

"I'm pretty happy that my life changed so much that I can compete at the highest level and earn so much money from it because this is also something that is really helping us appreciate the sport we have."

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