Nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will find it a lot tougher going in the 2023 edition according to Serena Williams’ former coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.
The 52-year-old coach, who led Williams to her sixth and seventh Australian Open titles and is currently coaching rising star Holger Rune, said Djokovic’s ’emotional baggage’ from the deportation drama would be tough to deal with.
The superstar 35-year-old Serb was deported in January last year, and had to miss the tournament, following intervention from the Australian government, who said the fact he was unvaccinated and a prominent ‘anti-vaxxer’ meant he could pose a risk to the community.
Novak Djokovic waves to the crowd after winning his first match of the Adelaide International on Tuesday
It was a prolonged saga lasting almost two weeks, during which time Djokovic spent time in an immigration detention centre in Melbourne that refugees at the time labelled ‘a torture prison’.
Mouratoglou said that experience was bound to scratch some of the 21-time Grand Slam champion’s mental scars as he looks to justify his $2.50 (TAB.com.au) favourtism for the title.
Serena Williams’ (left) former coach Patrick Mouratoglou (right), who guided the US superstar to two Australian Open titles, says if Djokovic is to win Down Under this year he’ll have to overcome some difficult mental demons
‘It’s going to be tough for Novak in Australia, that’s for sure,’ he told Eurosport.
‘He going to carry a big emotional baggage. He’s been through so much, emotionally speaking. Nobody is immune … it’s going to be hard.’
For his part, Djokovic, who is currently in South Australia for the Adelaide International, is eager to remember all the good times he has enjoyed in Australia since first winning the Open in 2008.
Novak Djokovic is taken away from an immigration detention facility in Melbourne in January 2022 after his visa was cancelled
The unvaccinated Djokovic arrived in Australia, and after a saga lasting almost two weeks was deported due to placing the public’s health and safety at risk, according to the government
‘What happened to me 12 months ago was not easy for me or my family or team … you can’t forget those events. It’s something I have never experienced before and hopefully never again,’ he told reporters upon arriving in Australia last week.
‘It was disappointing to leave the country like that but I was really hoping to get permission to play back in Australia.
‘It’s a country where I have had tremendous support. I have always played my best tennis here.
‘Melbourne is close to my heart. What happened was not easy for me to digest but I had to move on and those circumstances will not replace what I have had in Melbourne and Australia.
‘So I come in with positive emotions,’ Djokovic said ahead of a practice session in Adelaide.
While acknowledging it would be easier said than done to blow past last year’s traumatic experience, and having to miss subsequent tournaments due to his vaccination status, Mouratoglou said there were certainly some elements of the preparation in Djokovic’s favour.
‘It’s the pre-season, it’s the off-season and there’s no stress of competition. So he’s (Djokovic) going to be emotionally rested, which is good,’ he said.
‘And then he won’t start directly with the Australian Open, so he’ll have time to get used to the atmosphere there.’
Novak Djokovic celebrates after comfortably accounting for Constant Lestienne at the Adelaide International on Tuesday
Djokovic has looked calmed, relaxed and focused in Adelaide, cruising past Constant Lestienne 6-3, 6-2 in his first singles match of the tournament.
He and best mate Vasek Pospisil went down in the doubles in a tiebreaker, but it was clear the Serb got exactly what he needed from the encounter.
There were concerns he may not received well by the public after last year’s vaccination drama, but his reception in Adelaide has proved those worries were misguided, thus far.
Scores of fans have lined up to just get a glimpse of superstar, and have lovingly chanted his name and held up signs, and Djokovic has been incredibly accommodating – as usual – to all manner of fan requests, selfies and autographs.
Novak Djokovic has been a hit with fans in Adelaide, and has been seen taking photo after photo with star struck fans of every age
Kids and adults alike hung over the stands at the Memorial Drive Tennis Centre to get an autograph from the star Serb
Djokovic happily complied with the mountain of fan requests, proving fears about how he would be received in Australia were, at least in South Australia, misguided
As he builds up to the January 16 start date for the Open, those waters will be tested in the city where the deportation drama took place.
Fortunately, there appears to be barely a hint of animosity towards the nine-time champion and affable jokester, who has always been a fan favourite.
If Djokovic can manage to justify his overwhelming betting favourtism and nab the title, he will equal fellow ‘Big Three’ member Rafael Nadal for the most men’s Grand Slam singles titles in history: 22.
He’ll next take to the court on Thursday, where he’ll play Frenchman Quentin Halys in the round of 16 at the Memorial Drive Tennis Centre in the shadows of the Adelaide Oval.