MONACO (AP) — Novak Djokovic is ready to move on from the controversy surrounding his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I miss competition,” the Serbian tennis star said Sunday on the opening day of the clay-court season at the Monte Carlo Masters in Monaco. “I still feel motivation to be on the tour and compete… and try to challenge the best players in the world for the biggest titles.”
The 20-time Grand Slam champion has played only one tournament so far in 2022, losing to Jiri Vesely in the quarterfinals of the Dubai Championships.
Djokovic could not defend his Australian Open title in January after he was deported from the country for not being inoculated.
More recently, he had to skip tournaments in Indian Wells, California, and Miami because he couldn’t travel to the United States for the same reason.
He has declared that he would not get the vaccine in order to be able to compete.
It has been a turbulent start to 2022 for Djokovic, who went through detention and a court case during an 11-day saga in Australia before he was sent home and not allowed to defend his title at Melbourne Park.
Rafael Nadal went on to win the Australian Open for his 21st major trophy, breaking a tie with Djokovic and Roger Federer.
At the end of February, Djokovic lost his No. 1 ranking for the first time in two years, sliding to No. 2 behind Daniil Medvedev, before reclaiming top spot.
And on March 1, Djokovic announced that he and coach Marian Vajda were splitting after 15 years together.
“The last four, five months have been really challenging for me mentally and emotionally but here I am and I try to leave all that behind and move on,” Djokovic said on Sunday.
His opening match in Monaco is scheduled for Tuesday.
The authorities in France and Monaco lifted most COVID-19 restrictions last month, allowing people who aren’t vaccinated into the country and back into restaurants, sports arenas and other venues.
With his French Open title in 2021 still fresh in his mind, Djokovic proclaimed that the clay in Monaco is the best surface to stage his comeback even though “historically it has not been my most successful surface.”
“I will try to use (the French Open title) as an inspiration to kick-start the clay court season the best possible way,” Djokovic said. “I understand that I probably won’t be at my best, particularly at the beginning.”
He added that “it will take some time, some matches to really get in the groove.”
The French Open starts on May 22 in Paris.
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Barbara Surk , The Associated Press