“That is the courtroom and the stadium the place I created the very best recollections of my skilled tennis profession,” Djokovic mentioned, thanking the followers for the nice and cozy welcome.
All the things appears forgotten a yr later Djokovic was expelled on the eve of the 2022 Australian Open, having misplaced their authorized problem for the proper to defend their title regardless of failing to fulfill the nation’s coronavirus vaccine mandate.
If Friday’s exhibition proved Djokovic is usually a grasp showman, his profession has confirmed he may pivot on a dime and lock in, laser-focused, when tennis historical past – and his place in it -ci – is at stake.
That is exactly the case at this yr’s Australian Open. With a tenth championship, Djokovic would equal his greatest rival Rafael Nadal for a males’s file 22 Grand Slam singles titles.
Djokovic, 35, launches his marketing campaign in a squad with out world #1 Carlos Alcaraz, the hard-hitting Spanish teenager who gained the US Open 2022 and have become the third man (together with Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem) not named Djokovic or Nadal to win a significant match since June 2018.
Alcaraz, 19, withdrew from the Australian Open final week after injuring his leg throughout observe.
Djokovic, seeded fourth, was positioned within the reverse half of the 128-man draw from seeded Nadal, who gained his twenty first main with a blistering comeback from a two-set deficit towards Medvedev on the Australian Open final yr. Nadal prolonged his mark to 22 per successful his 14th French Open in June.
Djokovic diminished to at least one by beating KyrgiosGrand Slam finalist for the primary time, at Wimbledon.
Because the Australian Open approaches, Nadal’s preparation for the unprecedented Grand Slam grind, which requires the champion to win seven best-of-five units over two weeks, is way from clear. .
At 36, he has misplaced 5 of his six matches since falling to American Frances Tiafoe within the fourth spherical of the US Open final season and faces a difficult first-round opponent in Britain’s Jack Draper, ranked fortieth and on the rise.
On the ladies’s and males’s aspect, there’s something for everybody at this yr’s Australian Open, which ushers in a brand new period following the retirements final yr of three beloved champions – Roger Federer20-time Grand Slam winner, who formally retired after a number of knee surgical procedures; Serena Williams, 23-time Grand Slam champion who has indicated the 2022 US Open would be the ultimate of her profession; and former No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, who introduced her retirement, aged 25, simply weeks later ending the 44 yr drought Australians hoisting the singles trophy of their dwelling Slam.
In Barty’s place, the Australians have Kyrgios to cheer on – the nation’s highest-ranked participant and essentially the most proficient by any commonplace. The query is whether or not he can management his self-destructive antics lengthy sufficient to succeed in the ultimate – as he did at Wimbledon final yr. Kyrgios’ underperformance apart, Netflix selected him as the focus of the primary installment of their actual property collection.”Breaking level“, which hopes to broaden tennis’s world viewers the identical manner “Method 1: Drive to Survive” did for the world’s most refined type of motorsport.
Instead of Williams, the People have a rising delegation of suitors. Jessica Pegula, 28, units off in pursuit of what could be her first Grand Slam singles title with a profession rating of No. 3. Coco Gauff, 18, signaled she was prepared by successful the third WTA singles title of his profession this month in Auckland. .
A gaggle of American males are anticipated to advance to week two, if kind follows the standings: eighth-seeded Taylor Fritz; Sixteenth-seeded Tiafoe, who thrilled followers together with her march to the US Open semi-finals final season; and thirtieth seed Sebastian Korda, who almost knocked down Djokovic throughout final week’s tune-up in Adelaide.
However no participant’s quest for the Australian Open might be extra intently chronicled than Djokovic’s.
Having declared his ambition years in the past to turn into the best tennis participant in historical past, Djokovic has solid his 6-foot-2, 170-pound body right into a purpose-built successful machine via an uncompromising routine of rigor. bodily and psychological.
Nowhere is he extra dominant than on the Australian Open, the place his profession match file stands at 82-8 (91.1 successful share).
Djokovic’s recreation and the laborious courts of Melbourne Park symbolize an ideal marriage between athlete and taking part in discipline – comparable, although totally different, to Nadal’s union with the crimson clay of Roland Garros.
Former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport, who has gained two of her three hard-court majors, explains:
It begins with Djokovic’s seemingly easy motion on the pitch.
“He makes it look really easy, does not he? Out and in of turns, altering path, maintaining middle, stability,” Tennis Channel analyst Davenport mentioned. “He is actually one of many first tennis gamers to be versatile like a gymnast. He’s quick as a sprinter. Maintains stability and modifications path with ease.
Then there’s its plan listing. “He does not have the largest serve, he does not essentially hit the toughest,” Davenport added. “However he can play pictures wherever he desires, attain something on the courtroom, get there and be poised when he makes contact.”
Two questions stay: will Djokovic’s reluctant hamstrings hinder his progress? And the way might he be affected by his comparatively restricted competitors final season – excluded not solely from the Australian Open but additionally from the US Open and the US hard-court circuit that preceded it?
He has performed 12 tournaments in 2022, in comparison with 26 every for world No. 3 Casper Ruud and No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas.
At his age and with extra big-game expertise than any rival on tour (Nadal included), it is attainable Djokovic might be nicely served taking part in a restricted schedule final season.
Then again, he may be a bit rusty, though his 5-0 begin to the season doesn’t mean that.
In accordance with veteran ESPN commentator and former Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, hamstrings are the one related concern.
“There is no doubt in my thoughts that he is the clear favorite,” McEnroe mentioned of Djokovic on a current convention name. “Even when Alcaraz had been within the match he could be the clear favorite, however hamstrings are positively a difficulty.”