Both Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios were the winners in a charity match love-in staged before the Australian Open last night. The nine-time champion was given a hero’s welcome on his “emotional” return to the Rod Laver Arena after his deportation last January. And the Aussie No.1, who is also never been far from controversy Down Under, helped rehabilitate his reputation in a perfect PR evening full of smiles and laughs and tweeners.
Just like when Bobby Ewing emerged from the shower in Dallas a year after he had been killed off, it was if the last 12 months had never happened. And no one – the event, the players and even the Australian public – seem to want to remember or re-live what really happened here.
The tournament director Craig Tiley who tried to get the unvaccinated Djokovic into the country on a medical exemption is still in place. This charity match sold out in only 58 minutes.
And as long as his left hamstring holds out, Djokvovic is set to win his 10th Australian Open title on January 29 and drew level with Rafa Nadal with 22 Grand Slam singles titles. It was business as usual at Melbourne Park. The Serbian superstar embraced the crowd at his most successful Grand Slam – and they embraced him.
After his rapturous reception when he walked on court, Djokovic said: “I’m very happy, very happy. Thank you so much. I feel a bit emotional right now to be honest.”
Kyrgious branded Djokovic “a tool” for complaining about lockdown rules during the 2021 event but an unlikely bromance has developed since the Aussie publicly supported the Serb here last year.
This light-hearted re-match of the Wimbledon final was living proof as it was played as a Fast 4 to protect Djokovic’s hamstring and Kyrgios’ injured knee. The tone was set early when the Serb jokingly held his head in his hands after hitting a tweener return into the net on a Kygrios let serve – only to then learn you play a let in this format. “I didn’t get my memo before the match,” laughed the Djoker.
Drop serves and in-game commentary followed until wheelchair players David Wagner and Heath Davidson – and then two ball kids – joined in the match tie break. “Go to Nick, he’s the weak link,” Djokovic told his partner. “His forehand return breaks down,” Kyrgios retorted before taking the “match” 4-3 2-4 10-9.
It has been a busy start to the year for Kyrgios where he invested in a Melbourne basketball franchise, appeared at the launch of the new Netflix series – and started a new feud with Alex De Minaur. Kyrgious pulled out of the recent United Cup at short notice and when asked yesterday if he had been in contact, De Minaur said coldly: “No, we haven’t spoken.”
Kyrgios, who repeated his threat to retire if he wins a Grand Slam singles title, was happy to speak about Djokovic after their match. “One of the greatest left us last year in Roger,” said the Aussie. “It is very important to have him around in our sport.”
Djokovic added: “It just feels great to be back in Australia, back in Melbourne. Thank you for welcoming me in a good way tonight.”
Djokovic and Kyrgios could meet again in the quarter finals here. “I don’t think we will be that friendly to each other,” said the Serb.