Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic claims he has had a “positive” reception from players in the locker room as he returns to the court for the first time since the Australian Open.
The world No.1 will play his first match since the Davis Cup finals in December when he rejoins the tour at the Dubai ATP tournament on Monday night.
Djokovic was forced to miss the Australian Open in January when he was deported on the eve of the grand slam because he is not vaccinated against COVID.
Before his opening round match against Italian wildcard Lorenzo Musetti, Djokovic had some choice words about his recent visit to Australia – and his recent reception in tournament locker rooms.
He said the reaction from most of his peers in Dubai was “positive and welcoming” – in comparison to his reception in Australia.
“So far here most of the players that I’ve seen – I haven’t seen too many players – but most of the players that I’ve seen have been positive and welcoming,” Djokovic said.
“It’s nice to see obviously.
“I can’t say that was the case in Australia. It was a little bit strange. But here it’s well so far.”
Djokovic elaborated on his experience at the Australian Open, saying it made him “sad” and “disappointed”. He needed more than a week off training to mentally recover, he said.
“There were lots of emotions after I came back from Australia,” he said.
“It was strange. I was disappointed, I was sad about the way it all has played out and the way I left the country.”
Djokovic returned to training 10 days after being detained and deported from Melbourne.
“I’ve been playing tennis for the last two and a half, three weeks. I’ve been enjoying it,” he said.
“I love the game, I love just hitting the tennis ball, so it wasn’t really difficult for me to pick up a racquet and go out on the practice court and just play.
“Knowing I was coming to Dubai, I had something to work for, I had a goal. So now that I’m here I could say that I am as well-prepared as I possibly can be and I’m excited to, again, be on the tour.”
The 34-year-old said he remained motivated to keep playing – despite his limited options of tournaments to play in as a result of being unvaccinated. Dubai authorities do not require visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter, but many other nations and tournaments do.
Last Wednesday, the 20-time major champion said he was prepared to sacrifice the opportunity to compete at any tournament if they required a vaccine mandate.
“I just have to follow the rules. Whatever tournament that I’m able to play, I’ll be trying to get to that country and play the tournament,” he told the BBC.