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Novak Djokovic ‘underestimated’ emotional impact of Australian Open visa saga

Novak Djokovic has opened up on the “mental and emotional” toll his ordeal in Australia caused him. The world No 1 had his visa cancelled twice before eventually being deported on the eve of the Australian Open, and admitted he “underestimated” the impact the saga would have on him when he finally returned to tennis months later.

 

 

Djokovic spoke at length about the effect of his deportation in Australia, which came after two stints in a government quarantine hotel and two appeal hearings, with the Serb winning the first to have his visa reinstated but losing the second after the Immigration Minister revoked his visa for a second time. Speaking to Tennis Channel on Thursday after Andy Murray was forced to pull out of their Madrid Masters match unwell, he said: “At the beginning when I came back from Australia I must admit that I was a little bit, maybe underestimating the emotional state that I was in.”

 

 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion did not end up starting his season until the end of February, winning his first two matches in Dubai before falling to qualifier Jiri Vesely in the quarter-finals. His next appearance came at Monte Carlo last month, where he crashed out in his opening match to make it back-to-back defeats for the first time since July.

 

 

Explaining that the Australian visa saga had still been taking a toll without him expecting it, Djokovic said: “I thought ‘you know, 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, the emotional and mental traces of what was happening there were still there. And I just felt maybe in the last few weeks I started to get out of that a little bit and move on and transform that into fuel and positive energy.”

 

 

 

The 86-time title winner thought his experience in tennis, which includes being president of the ATP Player Council before going on to found his own breakaway organisation – the Professional Tennis Players’ Association – would help him, but found that wasn’t the case when it came to his deportation. “It was kind of a situation or circumstance that I’ve never faced in my life before,” he continued.

“As many years as I’ve been on the tour and as much experience as I have in the tennis ecosystem on and off the court and being involved also in player council and tennis politics and press and everything, I consider myself quite experienced with the different kinds of factors that are part of my life and the tennis ecosystem.

 

 

“But still this was something that was completely unexpected so it did take a toll on me, I think more mentally and emotionally than physically because I was just trying to figure things out, go back to that optimal state of mind and body and soul, and just try to approach the next tournament as any other, and that was my mindset.”

Returning to competition in Dubai, in what ended up being his first tournament in three months, Djokovic soon discovered it wouldn’t be that easy. “But then I realised as I started to play official matches that it’s actually not easy to just finish off with that, I had to still deal with that feeling of being – I don’t know.

 

 

“It’s hard to explain, I don’t have any words for that particularly but it’s just that feeling that was holding back a little bit, particularly in the the first couple of tournaments, in those matches I felt like I wasn’t myself. I was a bit more nervous than usual and kind of more in a defensive mode mentally when I started to play points officially so it took me a little bit of time to go through that.”

 

 

After his back-to-back losses, the world No 1 was able to achieve his best result of the season so far when he reached the final in Belgrade recently, and in Madrid has now scored his “best win of the year so far” against Gael Monfils, winning his first and so far only match at the tournament 6-3 6-2. “I think in Serbia now with the crowd support and that great energy that I experienced there, [it] really helped me to go through it so hopefully from now onwards it will go back to [the] optimal balance that I need in order to perform my best,” he concluded.

 

 

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