Australian Open: Novak Djokovic returns to favorite status


Who could really believe that he would rain tomatoes on his head or that index fingers would rise in his wake? Novak Djokovic’s return to Australia was watched by the media and eagerly awaited by tennis fans. It is true that his critics were numerous in the area, exactly one year ago. But that was a year ago. If the vaccination status of the Serb is still blank, time has passed and the situation has changed. There is no longer any question of exemption to line up, as there is no longer any question of having to be vaccinated to go to Australia. Melbourne, which hosts the season’s first Grand Slam from Monday, was still up for grabs in January 2022, barely after a record 262-day lockout. In January 2023, the city welcomes the former victim of the plague with smiles, respect and a will not to remember the bad things.

Illustration on Friday, at Rod Laver Arena which saw him bring down the curtain as a nine-time winner between 2008 and 2021. A charity match, against local figure Nick Kyrgios, one of the few players who have supported him in the storm when their story was a bit tense. Or a sequence during which everyone wanted to avoid tension, which was indeed the case. Djokovic said thank you very much for this moment: “I feel a little emotional, to be honest. I really wanted to get back to this court. » So comfortable that he allowed himself a few dance steps between exchanges.

The then world number 1 was drained

The tone is set, consistent with the impression given last week in Adelaide, by the player’s (winning) return to territory. And if it came to the idea of ​​certain viewers to disturb the fortnight of the reconquering king, Craig Tiley has already taught them the barbed wire. “Boom, we’re kicking them out”said the director of the tournament al Herald Sun, Wednesday. The same newspaper that, a year ago, scratched its cover “Out! », full pot photo of Djoko’s face, banned in every sense of the word. In short, each edition has its expulsions, even if some are more expensive than others.

Immersed in an unprecedented mess, serialized by both the judiciary and the political power, the then world number 1 was wiped out. Not so much for his four nights in an immigration detention center, the already famous Park Hotel, as for entire days spent on the defensive. Not to mention the doubt, both his Covid tests have given caution. He will have paid a high price for his positions since the American tournaments (Indian Wells, Miami, Montreal, Cincinnati and the US Open) were denied him, in accordance with government provisions. The vaccination requirement for foreign travelers has just been extended in the United States until mid-April, so we will still have to wait to resume normal business.

Since May 31, Djokovic has accumulated 30 wins and only conceded one loss

Meanwhile, Djokovic is swallowing everything the circuit wants to give him. Since May 31, the date of his defeat in the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros against Rafael Nadal, he has accumulated 30 victories (pocketing Wimbledon and the Masters in passing), and has conceded only one defeat, in the final of Paris- Bercy vs Rune Holger cheeky. “He went through a very intense thing in Melbourne, but deep down it was also a blessing in disguise, issued by the Belgian Justine Henin, former number 1 of the WTA. He was able to rest, rework, recharge his batteries, in short. And this at an important time in his career, with youngsters pulling back while he himself is chasing records. » Starting with the Grand Slam titles owned by Nadal (22 against 21, Roger Federer having blocked the cursor at 20).

If the context is particular, it seems more than ever directed in its direction, this changes little with the business. Djokovic has learned to break free and, above all, he likes to feed off obstacles. Not only is he moving forward to consolidate his status, that of the unofficial head of the ATP, but also to recover his honor. “We’ll see a Novak fresh in his head but also enraged, continues Henin, who will commentate on the tournament for Eurosport. He is hungry for victories, for revenge. If Alcaraz had been there [l’Espagnol est blessé à la jambe droite], would have been just as popular. »

Even Nadal, owner stung by doubt, accepts without having to activate false modesty. Get ready to see Djoko’s shoulder in his prime again: “If he wins, we will congratulate him, he will have achieved something historic, that’s all. My life will not change. » But the classification, yes. Relegated to 5th position due to the circumstances, the Serbian would then find first, only to stretch his record (373 weeks on pole). Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas are also in the running for the seat. For them, it would be the first.

Source : Le JDD

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