Australian Open: Djokovic feeling 'so much love' as he makes strong start to history bid

By Sports Desk January 17, 2023

Novak Djokovic set off on his Melbourne mission to match Rafael Nadal's haul of 22 grand slams, promising: "I know how to handle it."

The title favourite and nine-time champion swept through his first Australian Open match in two years, beating Spain's Roberto Carballes Baena 6-3 6-4 6-0.

Deported from Melbourne last year amid a vaccination saga, and denied the chance to defend his title, Djokovic received a rousing welcome on Rod Laver Arena.

"I felt very welcome on the court," Djokovic said. "Especially the Serbian community that is big here in Australia has welcomed me in an incredible way. So much support. So much love."

The 35-year-old from Belgrade dropped just four points in the closing set, with the hamstring injury that hampered his preparation seemingly giving him no fresh cause for concern.

"The leg is good. It's not ideal, but it's getting there. Today was a really good test," he added.

Djokovic will join Nadal at the top of the men's all-time list of slam triumphs should he pick up a 10th title at Melbourne Park next week. He may soon be looking at overtaking Margaret Court, who won 24 singles slams, the most by any player.

"They're just numbers in the end of the day," Djokovic said, when asked about the targets in his sights.

"I've been in the situations before where I've played for some really big historic things, and I've been blessed to have I would say more success than failures in those particular situations.

"I know how to behave, I know how to handle it. Let's see how far I can go."

Mother Dijana and father Srdan have joined Djokovic in Australia this year, as has brother Marko.

His parents have not made the trip to Melbourne since 2008, the year Djokovic won a first grand slam in Australia.

"Well it's really not around the corner from Serbia. Australia is a pretty long way," said Djokovic, explaining why they usually stayed away.

"That's probably the biggest reason. They've come to watch me in Paris, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon, US Open. In particular, Australian Open has been a bit of a trip for my parents particularly.

"I'm really glad to have them here. The last time they were here, actually the only time they were here, was back in 2008. We have some great memories and considerations about the time that they spent here together now 15 years ago. Hopefully they can stay all the way, I can stay all the way, and we can have another great celebration."

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    "Now he's in a slump, so everyone wants to bury him, but he's still capable of playing very well," he continued. 

    "Last year it was [seen as] shameful to say that he was starting to drop, with people saying, 'You're talking rubbish, he's won three grand slams'.

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    "On the other hand, he's like everyone else. He's reaching an age where players like [Rafael] Nadal before him or like [Roger] Federer before him have dropped."

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