Novak Djokovic admitted that the warm reception he received from fans in Dubai on Monday exceeded his expectations as he made a successful return to the tour for the first time since his deportation from Australia.
The world No. 1 started his 2022 campaign with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti, and was greeted by cheers from a packed stadium as he completed his quest for a sixth Emirates title. style began.
Djokovic wasn’t sure how he would be received after everything that happened in Australia last month, but stated that he “couldn’t ask for a better reception” as fans hurriedly took pictures with him after the game and said ‘Nole, Nole’, to celebrate his victory and his return to action.
“I think Dubai is a perfect place for me to start a season because of the support and the fans who showed up tonight and really cheered me on the way they did,” Djokovic told reporters at an open-air press conference held on a special occasion. was set up for him, away from the main interrogation room.
“They exceeded my best expectations, so to speak, in terms of atmosphere.”
The 34-year-old’s hopes of winning a 10th Australian Open and 21st Grand Slam last month were shattered when his visa was canceled and expelled for not having been vaccinated against Covid-19.
In his absence, Rafael Nadal took a record-breaking 21st major title, ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer – who have 20 each – in the race for Grand Slam supremacy.
“The (Australian Open) final, I tried not to watch it, but then my household was watching, basically everyone was watching, my wife and my kids, so I had to watch it,” Djokovic looked back.
“But congratulations to Rafa. Incredible performance. He is a great fighter.
“I have gained a lot of respect for him. I don’t want to diminish his victory, I am not participating in the tournament anyway. It was of course not a nice feeling for me to leave the country like I did and the tournament from afar. to watch.”
Recognizing that his reputation has been dented in recent weeks, Djokovic has consulted several PR professionals to gain a better understanding of the “different dynamics” related to his situation, which he admits have escalated outside of the sport and has entered several areas, including politics.
“I really don’t know about image. Of course, there weren’t many positive articles about this whole situation in the past month. I think things might shift a bit. I hope. But I understand that there is still a lot of speculation and people are doubting,” he said.
Djokovic can play in Dubai as a coronavirus vaccine is not a requirement to enter the United Arab Emirates, but he revealed that he will not be able to enter the United States “as of today” to participate in the upcoming Masters 1000 events at Indian Wells and Miami.
His meeting with 19-year-old Musetti was his first competitive game since the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid last December.
It was a rematch of their fourth round at Roland Garros last spring, where Musetti led Djokovic with two sets-to-love before retreating into the decider.
On Monday, top division Djokovic needed just 74 minutes to make the last 16, where he will face either Karen Khachanov or Alex de Minaur.
Murray warns of ‘consequences’
Previously, former world No. 1 Andy Murray fought Australian qualifier Christopher O’Connell for nearly three hours before advancing to the second round with a 6-7 (4/7), 6-3, 7-5 victory.
Murray is now just one win away from his goal of achieving 700 match wins in his career and could tick that item off his bucket list if he emerges victorious in his next clash in Dubai against Italian No.4 seed Jannik Sinner or the Spanish Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
The three-time Grand Slam winner, who competed in Dubai for the first time since winning the title in 2017, says he disagrees with Djokovic’s stance against the vaccine, but believes the tour would be better off if the world’s No. 1 world is able to compete.
“I think of course it would be a lot easier for him if he got vaccinated,” Murray said.
“But I also didn’t like seeing him in the situation he was in Australia as someone I respect, have known since I was a kid.
“There are consequences to the decisions he has just made. Of course he has to accept that. But I don’t think it’s great for tennis if our best player doesn’t compete in the big events.”