Novak Djokovic: ‘I just had to play’ in surprising Adelaide U-turn

The Australian tennis season got underway in the most unusual of circumstances as Novak Djokovic first withdraws then decides to join mid-match in front of the Aussie crowd. 

The tennis showcase, billed as “A Day at the Drive” was organised as a curtain raiser to the Australian Open, featuring top players from the men’s and women’s game.

The first session was to feature Novak Djokovic taking on Jannik Sinner, followed by Noami Osaka v Serena Williams.

However, 15 minutes before the match, it was announced that Djokovic was withdrawing from the event due to blisters on his hand and that he would be replaced by fellow Serbian Filip Krajinovic.

A shock to the crowd and commentators alike, the withdrawal of the World number one, caused much speculation about how the injury would effect his Australian Open chances.

But, in another dramatic turn, following the first set, Djokovic returned to court and decided to play the second set anyway in front of a stunned yet exuberant crowd.

The combined Serbian tag-team beat Sinner 6-3, 6-3, and afterwards Djokovic showed his appreciation to the crowd for the support.

“Thank you so much for making our day and making our year. We didn’t play in front of this big a crowd in 12 months so this is something very special” Djokovic said.

“I appreciate everyone’s love and passion for this sport and Adelaide has a special spot in my heart as well, I won one of my first ATP tournaments here 14 years ago.

“I know it’s a difficult time for the entire planet and everybody is suffering and I’m just grateful that we have an opportunity to be here.

“It wasn’t easy obviously being constrained in a room for 14 days, but at the end of the day it was worth it because you guys made it very special for us.”

When asked to clarify the circumstances of the withdrawal and then U-turn, Djokovic was quick to apologise but said he couldn’t miss out.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t step on the court from the beginning” said Djokovic.

“I had to do some treatment with my physio and wasn’t feeling my best the last couple of days.

“I didn’t know how I was going to react. I wanted to play and I wanted to get out here and hopefully it was enough for you guys.

“It’s not easy (to play with the blister) but it is part of what we do. We’re professional athletes and we learn over the years to play with pain and it’s just a question of whether that pain is bearable or not.

“Coming off a hard training block and having the ATP Cup and the Australian Open around the corner, you don’t want to risk it too much.

“The emotion was so strong in me to come out on the court today to see full stands and I just had to play.”

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