Novak Djokovic said his deportation from Australia will stick with him for the rest of his life but he is happy to be back in the country and hoping for a good reception from the public.
The 21-time grand slam champion was detained in an immigration hotel on arrival in Australia 12 months ago and sent home after his visa was cancelled by the immigration minister, who decided Djokovic’s presence could stoke anti-vaccine sentiment.
With vaccination against Covid-19 no longer required to enter Australia and following a change of government, Djokovic successfully challenged a three-year ban on applying for a visa and will begin his season at the Adelaide International next week.
He told a press conference: “You can’t forget those events. It’s one of these things that sticks with you, it stays with you for I guess the rest of your life. It was something that I’ve never experienced before, and hopefully never again.
“But it is a valuable life experience for me. I have to move on. Coming back to Australia speaks how I feel about this country, how I feel about playing here.
“I was really hoping that I’m going to have my permission back to get back into Australia and play here because it’s a country where I’ve had tremendous success in my career.
“I always felt great in Australia. I always played my best tennis, received a lot of support. Hopefully I can have another great summer.”
How Djokovic is received by fans will generate a lot of attention over the next month.
Public sentiment was overwhelmingly against the Serbian being allowed into the country 12 months ago after Australians had endured some of the strictest anti-Covid measures in the world.
Djokovic said: “I’m hoping they’re going to be positive. It’s not something I can predict. I’ll do my best to play good tennis, bring good emotions and good feelings to the crowd.
“I’ve been here only two days. From the people in the hotel to the airport to people at the tournament and at the club, everyone was really, really pleasant, really nice to me. We went for dinner last night, as well. All good for now.”
Djokovic’s absence in January and from the US Open, where he was also unable to travel, saw his ranking slip to five but he will go into the Australian Open as favourite to win the title for a record-extending 10th time.
The 35-year-old insisted he will not carry negative feelings to Melbourne, saying: “That event or those circumstances will not replace what I have lived in Melbourne and in Australia throughout my entire career.
“I come in with positive emotions, and I really look forward to playing there. It’s been my favourite slam, and results are proving that.”
Australian Open organisers announced record prize money of 76.5million Australian dollars (approximately £42.7million) on Thursday, an increase of 3.4 per cent year on year, with the singles champions each taking home 2.975million dollars (approximately £1.66million).
A very strong field in Adelaide also includes two-time Australian Open runner-up Daniil Medvedev and a trio of British players in Andy Murray, Jack Draper and Kyle Edmund.