World number one Novak Djokovic declared himself “home” on Sunday as he gears up for an unprecedented ninth Australian Open title, warning he grows in confidence the more he plays at Melbourne Park. The Serbian star won the first of his 17 Grand Slam crowns in Australia in 2008, and Rod Laver Arena has since become his most successful court. After struggling with blisters during an exhibition in Adelaide on Friday, playing only one of his two scheduled sets, he said he was now “fine” ahead of his season debut in the ATP Cup this week then the Australian Open on February 8. “It does feel like a home for me in Australia, in Melbourne, particularly in Rod Laver,” said Djokovic.
“That is by far my most successful tennis court in my career. Had some profound memories in the last 15 years, and you know, won my first Grand Slam back in 2008.”
“Had probably the most exciting matches played on this court, and definitely the longest match ever that I played was in the finals, almost six hours with Rafa (Nadal) in 2012.”
And he said being back on Rod Laver Arena rekindled “beautiful memories”, which he plans to use to his advantage when the opening Grand Slam of the year gets under way.
“Each year that I come back to the court, it feels even better,” he said.
“The more you win obviously on the court, the more confident you feel coming back to it.”
Having fans watching is another big motivating factor for the Serb, after a year where most tennis has been played in empty arenas.
Australia has kept the coronavirus largely at bay with its aggressive incoming travel restrictions, making it one of the few places in the world where spectators can still attend sports events in significant numbers.
That means daily crowds of between 25,000 and 30,000 will be allowed to watch the Australian Open and Djokovic is thrilled.
“I’m sure that the fans are as excited as players. I mean, was a unique experience I think for every one of us coming to Australia and being 14 days in quarantine.”
“For some easier, for some worse, obviously. In the end of the day, we are all out. We are all excited and looking forward to the start of the season.”
Djokovic was one of the lucky few to quarantine in Adelaide rather than Melbourne, playing a set against Jannik Sinner in an exhibition on Friday in front of a near-capacity 4,000 fans at Memorial Drive, an experience he savoured.
“I had goosebumps coming into the court playing in front of the fans again after 12 months of not experiencing that,” he said.
“It feels like ages, you know, playing without fans. Hopefully, this is all temporary, that we will be able to experience everywhere we go the fact of playing in front of the fans, not just here in Australia.”
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