On Tuesday, Novak Djokovic kicked off his 2023 season Down Under with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Constant Lestienne in the first round of the Adelaide International 1. It was the Serbian’s first win in Australia in two years.
In a way, it also seemed to be closure to the former world no. 1’s jarring experience of getting deported from the country a year back, in 2022, because of his vaccination status. Far away in Pune, India, a day prior to Djokovic’s 2023 debut, on Monday, his on-Tour colleague, Marin Cilic spoke about his return to the country and what it meant for the Tour to have him start the year in Australia.
"Disastrous": Marin Cilic on Novak Djokovic's 2022 Australian experience
The Croat, responding to a question from TennisWorld USA, stated, “Hats off to Novak because he went through a very big emotional difficulty in that January of last year and was definitely whatever it was, it wasn't fair to him, absolutely not.
And that was disastrous for him as an athlete to go through those things it's just extremely difficult”. For the 34-year-old, the way Djokovic went on to shape the rest of the year – despite having to miss the US Open, again due to lack of Covid-19 vaccination – reinforced his mettle as one of the best in the sport.
“(It) proves again that he's got that stellar ability to keep his focus, to keep his mentality there up and then still winning a grand slam in this last year so hats off to him. (He) managed to play great tennis and really amazing end of the season fantastic.
He played from after US Open, we played in Tel Aviv and also in Kazakhstan and Bercy, and he was playing amazing tennis… So yeah, wishing him absolutely all the best for the season,” Cilic shared. In many ways, Djokovic’s return to the tour right at the start of the new season marks a return to normalcy on the tennis tour.
At the same time, certain events that took place in 2022 have come to indicate the change of times on the tour, a few days into the new tennis year. One such event was the retirement of Roger Federer. Speaking about the first of what will become routine in a few years’ time, Cilic said, “Obviously, we all never wanted Roger to leave, you know, because he's a great guy, obviously (an) incredible inspiration not only for us on the tour, but for many kids around the world.
And so, and also to many of these Next Gen guys that are now at the top he was, and probably still is an idol. So, definitely difficult to see him go and the tour is definitely going to be different”. Nonetheless, the 2014 US Open champion feels that the continued presence of Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Djokovic will help mitigate Federer’s absence even as it will help to keep the pot of action on the Tour simmering interestingly.
“But I would say that, you know, we are still lucky to have Rafa playing, Novak playing also and Andy playing they're still keeping this enthusiasm of tennis up there”. Circling back to Adelaide, it feels as though Novak Djokovic heard Marin Cilic, loud and clear. Photo Credit: Twitter