MELBOURNE, Australia ( Associated Press) — Novak Djokovic received a warm and cheering welcome on Friday when he returned to Melbourne for an exhibition match against Nick Kyrgios.
Djokovic was deported ahead of the Australian Open last year because of an issue relating to his visa after refusing to confirm whether he has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
But the nine-time Australian Open champion has been given the green light to return to the tournament this year starting on Monday after the Australian government scrapped vaccination requirements.
After enjoying a “fantastic” reaction from fans at a tournament in Adelaide last week, the Serb admitted he was unsure how he would be received in Melbourne a year after being relegated.
But an emotional Djokovic entered a packed Rod Laver Arena and was greeted by a standing ovation of around 15,000 fans.
Djokovic admitted, “It’s great to be back in Australia, in Melbourne.” “This is the ground and the stadium where I have made some of the best memories of my professional career.”
“The first time I won a Grand Slam in 2008, it was unbelievable, and after 15 years I’m here again and I’m competing at a higher level. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be here, my good ways tonight Thank you for welcoming me.
Djokovic was free from the hamstring problems that have plagued him this month and played for fans several times in this charity exhibition game.
Kyrgios pulled out of recent tournaments, the United Cup and the Adelaide International, due to knee and ankle problems and has not played a serious duel since last year. Australia’s best tennis player did well against Djokovic, who bested him in last year’s Wimbledon final. Both can compete in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
Kyrgios will face Roman Safiulin in the first round, while Nolle begins his path to his tenth Open title against Roberto Carballes Baena.
In the exhibition match, Djokovic and Kyrgios displayed special shots, simulated explosions and conducted mid-match interviews. They played one set each in Fast4 conditions, before teaming up with wheelchair and junior tennis players for the tie-breaking third set.