Novak Djokovic 'even more motivated' to succeed in Dubai and put visa saga to rest

World No 1 makes his belated start to season at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

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Novak Djokovic said he has quickly moved past the "sad" visa controversy and the whole saga in Australia has made him "even more motivated" to make a belatedly fast start to the year at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Djokovic, 34, opens his 2022 season against Italian wild card Lorenzo Musetti in Dubai on Monday evening, five weeks after he was deported from Australia under the government's Migrations Act due to his unvaccinated status against Covid-19. Djokovic's deportation brought to an end a 10-day row that saw the world No 1 have his visa cancelled on arrival, spend nights in an immigration detention centre, and have his visa reissued, then revoked again.

The saga also caused an international diplomatic row between the governments of Australia and Serbia, as well as plenty of social unrest, with protests both in support of and in opposition to the 20-time Grand Slam champion's presence in Melbourne.

Djokovic revealed that the episode did take its toll but after a period of rest, he is eager to get back to doing what he does best: winning tennis matches.

"It wasn't an everyday situation for me, what happened in Australia, so of course, it was different. I was sad the way it has all played out and the way I left the country," Djokovic said. "But once I refreshed mentally, emotionally, physically, and it didn't take me too long, and once that I knew I was allowed to come here and play, it wasn't that hard for me to get on the court, speak to my team, create a plan to peak at the right time here in Dubai.

"Considering what I've been through in the last couple months, I'm even more motivated to go out on the court and play my best tennis. Of course, it's not a guarantee, but I did my best to put myself in a good position tennis-wise. Mentally as well; I am present, I'm here, really happy to be playing again."

While the rest of the field in Dubai has already been competing on the tour for seven weeks – including at the Australian Open where Djokovic would have been the defending champion – Djokovic has been limited to practice in Belgrade. But the five-time Dubai champion does not expect to experience too much rust when he finally gets his season under way.

"I started training probably about 10 days after I came back from Australia, and I've been playing tennis for the last three weeks," he said. "Knowing that I was coming to Dubai, I had something to work for, I had a goal. So now that I'm here, I can say that I am as well prepared as I possibly can be and excited to, again, be on the tour. That's all I'm feeling at the moment."

Djokovic, who said he has received a "positive and welcoming" reception from fellow players so far in Dubai - which he admitted wasn't the case in Australia - conceded that his schedule for the rest of the year has been somewhat taken out of his control, but he will play where he can to be ready for the four Grand Slams. For now, though, the focus is squarely on Dubai.

"I just have to follow the rules. Whatever tournament that I'm able to play, I'll be trying to get to that country and play the tournament," he said. "I'm not intending to play the full schedule. I am aiming to play my best at the Grand Slams and some of the [Masters] 1000 events, playing for my country, those are the biggest motivations that I had in terms of the scheduling.

"Right now the situation is obviously different for me. I really can't choose. It's about where I can go and play. Wherever I have an opportunity, I'll be using that and going to play because this is what I love to do still.

"But it's very exciting to have everyone here with me in Dubai. We're back on the tour. We'll play this tournament and we'll see how it goes further down the line."

Updated: February 20, 2022, 6:09 PM
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