World No. 1 Novak Djokovic faced something in January that no tennis player has dealt with before. He was deported from Australia due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19, which was required to enter the country.
Because of his vaccination status, Djokovic is only playing in his fourth tournament this year as he competes in the Madrid Open this week.
The Serbian has withdrawn from multiple tournaments due to his stance against vaccination, including two events in the United States. But, as restrictions start becoming less strict in the tennis world, Djokovic is ready to make his comeback.
In an interview with Tennis Channel on Thursdaythe star admitted the Australia situation “took a toll” on him mentally.
“After I came back from Australia, I must admit that I was a little bit maybe underestimating the emotional state that I was in,” Djokovic said. “I thought, ‘You know, well, I’m out of Australia, it is what it is. What happened, happened. I’m moving on. ‘ But then I did feel for the months to come that the emotional and mental traces of what was happening there were still there. ”
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It was clear Djokovic was struggling when he returned to the court this year. He first played in Dubai in February, losing in the quarterfinals to the No. 123 ranked player in the world, Jiri Vesely. Then, he lost his first match at Monte Carlo in early April.
“In those matches, I felt like I wasn’t myself,” Djokovic said. “I was a bit more nervous than usual and just kind of in a more of a defensive mode mentally.”
But he turned around the following week when he reached the final in his home country of Serbia, before losing to No. 8 Andrey Rublev. He said his home crowd helped build his confidence again.
“I just felt maybe in the last few weeks I started to kind of get out of that a little bit and move on and transform that into fuel and positive energy,” Djokovic said.
The World No. 1 said he feels more mentally and emotionally balanced after being back in competition for a few weeks now. He’s ready to focus on his tennis goals again, and put the mental turmoil in the past.
For one, Djokovic is focused on winning his 20th Grand Slam title as he’s already cleared for this month’s French Open and this summer’s Wimbledon due to those tournaments dropping their vaccination requirement. He was prepared to skip the tournaments if the requirement didn’t change, though. If he can secure a major title this year after missing out on the first one, he will tie Rafael Nadal for the most in men’s tennis history.