Novak Djokovic of Serbia fields questions from the media during the Western Southern Open at Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 13, 2023 in Mason. AFP
The Serb who refused to get vaccinated for COVID and was denied entry to the States during the latter years of the pandemic is keen to get stuck into the final major tuneup prior to the US Open starting in a fortnight.
The 36-year-old won in Cincinnati in 2018 and 2020 and will face either Toronto semi-finalist Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or Argentine Tomas Martin Etcheverry in the second round on Wednesday.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion will be competing for the first time since losing the Wimbledon final last month to Carlos Alcaraz; that pair will also duel for the number one title this week in the Midwest.
"I have to recover as quickly as possible and be ready to give my best for the exciting challenges that lie ahead," Djokovic said. "If I weren't motivated, I would stop playing.
"It's exciting that after almost 20 years on Tour, to keep that inner fire that drives me to fight for big goals. I want to keep winning tournaments."
Djokovic's US return has generated excitement in Cincinnati, where fans packed out stands to watch the Serbian in a practice session on Sunday.
Djokovic added that entering the New York Grand Slam with just one preparation tournament will be enough of a tune-up.
"I feel that I can choose with total freedom where I want to play. I really wanted to return to Cincinnati to prepare well for the tournament."
Djokovic also has his mind on Flushing Meadows after missing the last two editions due to his hardline vaccine stance.
"I'm very excited to return to the country after two years; I'm very grateful for all the love that people are giving me."
Meanwhile, heavy rain prevented the start of play in Cincinnati on Monday.
"Due to rain, the start of play is delayed," tournament organisers said in a brief statement.
"We will provide further updates when conditions begin to improve."
With scattered thunderstorms forecast throughout the Cincinnati region on Monday, it remained unclear when or if play would start.
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