Novak Djokovic received a rapturous welcome back to Melbourne Park in a sell-out practice match against Nick Kyrgios.
The Australian Open has put on a series of warm-up encounters building up to the start of the tournament on Monday, culminating in this contest on Rod Laver Arena.
All of the cut-price tickets costing 20 Australian dollars (approximately £11) sold out within an hour of going on sale and any fears Djokovic may have had about the reception he would receive following last year’s deportation would have dissipated when he saw the number of Serbian flags in the crowd.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 13, 2023
Speaking after walking on court, the nine-time champion said: “I’m very happy. Thank you so much. I feel a bit emotional. I was looking forward to coming back to this court.”
As well as the emotions of returning to Melbourne, Djokovic has been battling a left hamstring injury and wore tape on his leg, while Kyrgios pulled out of representing Australia at the United Cup because of his own leg issue.
But this was not an encounter to test either man’s fitness, with the light-hearted contest seeing Djokovic dancing on court before the two men were joined for the final tie-break by wheelchair stars David Wagner and Heath Davidson and two junior players.
Djokovic and Kyrgios both wore microphones and played to the crowd, who lapped up their antics.
Speaking afterwards, Djokovic said: “It just feels great to be back in Australia, back in Melbourne. This is the court where I created the best memories of my tennis career.”
Kyrgios was one of the few players to stand up for Djokovic last year in the row over his vaccination status, thawing what had been a frosty relationship.
“It’s just so important to have him around,” said Kyrgios. “I don’t think we knew how special these guys are to our sport.”
Both men, who could meet on the same court in the quarter-finals, begin their campaigns on Tuesday, Djokovic against Roberto Carballes Baena while Kyrgios takes on Roman Safiullin.