Hitting back at his detractors and slamming the doubters, Novak Djokovic says his ninth Australian Open triumph was among the most challenging of his grand slam career.
Djokovic thumped Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in Sunday night’s final before taking aim at his critics. The Serb was savaged pre-tournament for detailing a list of so-called quarantine demands for the 72 players holed up in hard lockdown, then accused of exaggerating an abdominal injury during his five-set third-round win over Taylor Fritz.
While admitting that the criticism had hurt him, Djokovic explained how he had developed a thick skin to block it out.
“Emotionally [this] was one of hardest tournaments I had, to be honest, with quarantine and a lot of things happening in the media,” the world No 1 told Nine.
“The letter that I wrote, ideas and recommendations that I got from players was misinterpreted as my request and list of demands. Then the next thing you know within a couple of days I’m persona non grata in this country.
“I got injured in the third round. It was a rollercoaster ride if I can define it in one word. I think it makes it even sweeter for me.”
Of the criticism, he said: “It seems unfair from some people that criticise and judge without really checking before. But as I said, it’s not really the first time. It happened so many times in my life, in my career. It will probably not be the last one.
“Of course, it hurts. I’m a human being like anybody else. I have emotions. I don’t enjoy when somebody attacks me in the media openly and stuff. I cannot say I don’t care about it. Of course, it does, I have to be honest.
“I didn’t allow it to hinder my performance. I think winning the trophy is in a way my answer. I think I’ve developed a thick skin over the years to just dodge those things and focus on what matters to me the most.”
Djokovic maintained he tore a stomach muscle against Fritz, and that the injury still had not fully healed.
“Once the tournament is done, I can say it’s a muscle tear. It was a muscle tear at that point,” the Serb said. “I don’t think I’ve experienced that kind of a snap that I have in the third round. I went to MRI. MRI has shown a tear. People questioned that.”
In a bizarre conclusion to the tournament, the crowd inside Rod Laver Arena booed Tennis Australia’s president after she mentioned the Covid vaccine rollout and the Victorian government.
Djokovic had just wrapped up his 18th grand slam title when Jayne Hrdlicka took to the stage during the presentation ceremony, only for a section of the crowd to heckle her as she spoke.
“With vaccinations on the way, rolling out in many countries around the world, it’s now a time for optimism and hope for the future,” Hrdlicka said, before having to pause as jeers rang out in the stands.
Hrdlicka thanked the Victorian government for its work in making the tournament happen, despite the global pandemic and said: “Without you we could not have done this.”
The crowd booed once again before Hrdlicka finished her speech by saying: “You are a very opinionated group of people.”
Djokovic, whose stance on vaccinations has drawn criticism in the past, said the fortnight in Melbourne had been a success, despite the many challenges faced by tournament organisers.
“There are a lot of mixed feelings about what has happened in the last month or so, with tennis players coming to Australia,” Djokovic said after his win.
“But I think when we draw a line in the end it was a successful tournament for organisers … it wasn’t easy, it was very challenging on many different levels, but they should be proud.”