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Novak Djokovic has been told that his ordeal in Australia at the start of the year has likely extended his career, giving him an advantage over rivals Rafael Nadal and now-retired Roger Federer as he looks set to play long enough to break the biggest records in the sport. The world No 5 has already learned that he will be allowed to return in January after being deported on the eve of the Australian Open ten months ago.
Djokovic’s unprecedented 2022 season finally drew to a close on Sunday as he lifted a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals trophy. It was a stark contrast to the start of the year for the Serb, when he found himself in a government detention hotel in Australia after having his visa cancelled twice before he was ultimately deported.
The 21-time Grand Slam champion has already received the good news that he can return to the country for the 2023 Australian Open after his three-year ban was lifted, but he has now been told that he has “emotionally” been able to extend his career after what happened in January, even if it left him with a lack of matches across best-of-five sets.
“Novak has been so close to being allowed to go to the Australian Open and so close to being allowed to go to the US Open, that it would have never affected his training blocks or his practice sessions,” Mats Wilander told Eurosport, also referencing the US Open which Djokovic was left unable to play as he failed to meet vaccine entry requirements for America.
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“And I think because he wasn’t allowed to go, I think obviously physically it might be a tough thing for him to play five sets, seven matches, but he can deal with that.” While he noted that the recently-crowned six-time ATP Finals champion had fewer Grand Slam matches under his belt for the season, he thought that the Serb had been left better off “emotionally” and able to extend his playing career.
The retired former world No 1 continued: “But emotionally, I feel like he’s added another year or two to his career because he must probably be slightly upset about what happened. But obviously Novak understands completely what it is that happened and there’s nothing you can do about it. And is it right or wrong? It doesn’t really matter…. So I think he’s able to understand that.”
The 35-year-old was quickly able to get back to his winning ways after spending three months away from the tour when he was unable to play the North American hard-court swing. After winning Wimbledon, he lost just one official tournament match to Holger Rune in the Paris Masters final while picking up titles in Tel Aviv, Astana and Turin. And Wilander thought it was evidence that he would remain unplayable despite his saga Down Under.
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“But I think that he looks so fresh, he looks so good. I can’t quite understand or believe that he did not win the tournament in Paris. I was shocked that he didn’t win that. But he played good enough and you can’t win everything,” the Swede explained. “Then, in Turin, he’s better than everybody else.
“I mean, it was just a perfect storm for him and he was in the middle of it and he was just flying along. And you’re not going to touch him when he’s in that mood. Am I surprised that the younger guys can’t hit through him? Sometimes I’m a little surprised, but it’s more Novak.”
Continuing to praise Djokovic, the seven-time Major champion concluded: “It’s insane what he can do in the tennis court with his movement and his defence and most of all, his will to win the ‘small matches’ to him who is maybe the greatest player of all time. He finds a way to just make it mean everything. I’m so impressed.”
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