Tennis-Djokovic will return stronger, say fellow Serbian players

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Tennis-Djokovic will return stronger, say fellow Serbian players
© Reuters/MORGAN SETTE Australian Open

By Sudipto Ganguly

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Novak Djokovic has the mental steel to overcome his Australian Open debacle and come back even stronger, his fellow Serbian players said on Monday as the year’s opening major kicked off without the men’s world number one and defending champion.

Djokovic, a record nine-times winner at Melbourne Park including the last three titles, left Australia on Sunday for Belgrade after losing a Federal Court appeal against the cancellation of his visa to enter the country.

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Serbian Laslo Djere, ranked 51st, backed the 20-times Grand Slam champion to draw inspiration from the episode.

“That’s what he does. That’s also in our Serbian mentality,” the 26-year-old Djere told reporters.

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“When we get beat down or we are treated a bad way or how we maybe don’t deserve, we just try to — especially him, tries to be inspired by that and gain strength from that.

“I’m sure that he will come back stronger than ever.”

Djokovic, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, was granted a medical exemption to play in Melbourne but spent a rollercoaster 10 days in Australia before being deported.

Djere, who lost to Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the first round on Monday, said “something went horribly wrong” and described it as a “true catastrophic situation”.

“I hope that in the future he will be the best tennis player in history and that this will be only looked at as a setback on his path to be the best tennis player to ever play the sport,” said Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic, ranked 39th.

Spaniard Rafa Nadal, Djokovic’s biggest rival on court, said the Serb was not the only person at fault.

“The ideal situation in the world of sport, that the best players are on court and playing the most important events,” said Nadal, who is tied with Djokovic and Roger Federer on 20 major titles.

“That’s better for the sport without a doubt. If Novak Djokovic was playing here, it’s better for everybody, no doubt about that.”

The men’s draw at the year’s opening major was already lacking big names like Federer and Dominic Thiem and Djokovic’s exit will further boost chances for his rivals.

Former world number six Gael Monfils of France and 14th-ranked Shapovalov, however, do not see Djokovic’s absence making it any easier for others.

“It’s not like there’s only one guy you can lose against. There’s a lot of tricky opponents,” Shapovalov, 22, said. “It was the same thing I felt like at U.S. Open when he (Djokovic’s default) was out of the draw.

“You kind of start looking forward, feeling like the draw is open. The reality of it is that there’s so many tough players. It’s super tough to play against anyone.”

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Ed Osmond)

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