Tennis player Djokovic says the deportation drama paved the way for success

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Novak Djokovic said his controversial deportation ahead of last year’s Australian Open proved an unlikely catalyst for success in 2022, allowing him to regroup on the practice court before returning with key titles.

The Serbian trained hard for months after being deported and until he was barred from competing in the United States due to lack of a COVID-19 vaccination.

He later won his seventh Wimbledon crown and capped a breakout year by winning the ATP Tour Finals for the sixth time in Turin.

Back at Melbourne Park after his visa ban was lifted by the Australian government, Djokovic said missing out on tournaments because of his stance on vaccinations had renewed his determination on the practice court.

“Yes, undoubtedly. I mean, usually as a professional tennis player at the highest level, you don’t have a lot of time to really do a longer training block,” Djokovic told reporters on Saturday.

“The fact that I didn’t play for a few months at the beginning of last year allowed me to really get together with my team and work on my body, on my shots, which later helped me achieve great results.”

Djokovic told local broadcaster Nine Network he felt like the “villain of the world” last year in Melbourne, where he was detained in a hotel with asylum seekers before being deported.

However, he was warmly received by the crowd at Rod Laver Arena on Friday night during a practice match against home hero Nick Kyrgios.

Djokovic, who will be aiming for a record 10th Australian Open crown, said he had no choice but to move on from last year’s events.

“Well, you should. I mean, in a way, if I hold a grudge, maybe if I couldn’t move on, I wouldn’t be here,” he told reporters.

“Also, I have to say that the amount of positive experiences I’ve had in Australia outweighs the negative experiences of maybe last year.”

The 35-year-old said he was still cautious about the hamstring strain he picked up in Adelaide and had been training lighter than usual to keep his energy up.

However, his desire to win another crown at Melbourne Park and match Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal for a 22nd major title was no deterrent.

“That’s why I keep playing professional tennis, competitive tennis, because I want to be the best, I want to win the biggest tournaments in the world,” said Djokovic, who opens his tournament against unseeded Spaniard Roberto Carballes Bayena.

“I like my chances. I always like my chances.”

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