Chaos has surrounded the start of Australia’s summer of tennis, with world number one men’s player Novak Djokovic taking to the court mid-match and then apologising to fans at Adelaide’s Memorial Drive.
- International tennis players have finished their 14-day quarantine in Adelaide
- Some of them will be playing in a tournament at Memorial Drive
- The Australian Open starts on February 8
Djokovic was a very late withdrawal from the event because of blisters on his hand, and was replaced by Filip Krajinovic for the clash with Jannik Sinner.
But, after backlash from irate fans on social media, Djokovic emerged on court to take over, replacing Krajinovic after he won the first set 6-3.
The Serbian star was on court for about half an hour as he wrapped up the game, securing the second set 6-3.
“It’s not easy, but it’s part of what we do. We learn over the years to play with the pain.
“It’s just a question and case of whether that pain is bearable or not, so obviously coming off from the hard training block and having [the] ATP Cup and Australian Open around the corner, you don’t want to risk it too much.
“But it was, the emotion was so strong in me to come out on the court today. Seeing almost full stands, I just had to play, that’s it. I had to play.”
Earlier this month, Djokovic came under fire after writing a letter to Australian Open chief Craig Tiley in which he suggested easing of quarantine restrictions.
Djokovic fronted the media this morning, but there was no indication at that time he would miss his match, and his absence was not confirmed until minutes before he was due to set foot on court.
The move did not go down well with some fans, who took to social media to express their disappointment.
“Novak Djokovic gets preferential quarantine treatment and then doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain,” one wrote.
But others expressed sympathy, wishing Djokovic a speedy recovery from his blisters.
The 33-year-old was among a group of elite tennis players to emerge from quarantine in Adelaide this morning, after being mostly confined to their hotel rooms for the past two weeks.
The players — who also include Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal — arrived in South Australia earlier this month and immediately began 14 days of mandatory isolation.
They were only allowed outside for supervised training sessions at Adelaide’s Memorial Drive tennis complex, and intend to use today’s Day at the Drive exhibition event as a warm-up for the Australian Open, which starts in Melbourne on February 8.
After stepping outside his hotel this morning, Djokovic spent time in North Adelaide’s Wellington Square before he was spotted by a throng of adoring fans.
“These 14 days … there wasn’t a day I didn’t have someone under the balcony with a Serbian flag, and I want to thank them all for making the stay in the hotel much easier for me and my team,” he said.
Serena takes daughter on Adelaide Zoo visit
Simona Halep, Dominic Thiem, Venus Williams, Irina-Camelia Begu and Australia’s world number one Ash Barty are among other players on today’s schedule of matches.
Serena Williams and Osaka blew off the cobwebs in their first post-quarantine match, with the 23-time major singles champion winning 6-2, 2-6 [10-7].
Osaka this morning thanked authorities, saying her time in quarantine had had a silver lining.
“The biggest thing it gave me was the chance to look inside myself, so it was more mental than anything tennis-related,” she said.
Williams spent the morning at the Adelaide Zoo with her daughter Olympia, after sharing a room together for a fortnight.
Williams joked that, while she “wouldn’t trade” time spent with family, she was glad to be out of isolation.
“And then it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, it never ends’, so, yeah … it was fun.”
Barty, who will face Halep on centre court later tonight, said she was looking forward to getting back on court.
“Even though it is an exhibition, I’ve spoken to Sim about it and we’re both ready to play, play hard and test ourselves and kind of prepare ourselves as best as we possibly can,” she said.
“It’s going to be a really good day in Adelaide.”
Nadal — who spent some of his time in quarantine showing off his foot skills — said it had been “difficult to think about tennis” for most of 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Here we are, starting another year … I’m excited to be back,” he said.
Premier Steven Marshall said it was an “exciting day for South Australia” to have players with 67 grand slams between competing in Adelaide.
“I’ve heard from the players that they’ve been down to the beach, over to the zoo, out for a coffee this morning,” he said.
“I think they’re enjoying their newfound freedom and I hope they really get to enjoy a little bit of Adelaide before they head off to the Australian Open.”