‘What can I do?’: Unvaccinated Djokovic on US ban

Key points

  • Novak Djokovic moves into the Adelaide International quarter-finals in straight sets.
  • The Serbian superstar rallied from 2-5 down in the first set to avoid going the distance.
  • Canada’s Denis Shapovalov is next up for Djokovic after an impressive second-round victory.

Adelaide: Novak Djokovic remains willing to sit out a series of high-level tournaments in the United States, confirming on Thursday his stance on vaccination remains unchanged.

Djokovic will compete for a 10th Australian Open title this month after being deported last year, but news broke out of the US on Wednesday that the travel ban on unvaccinated non-citizens would extend until at least April 10.

Novak Djokovic overcame a slow start in Adelaide on Thursday.Credit:AP

That would rule him out of five ATP Tour events, most notably the Indian Wells and Miami Masters in March, while it is still unclear if the former world No.1 will be able to play in the US Open in late August.

“Look, if it is official, then it is. I mean, what can I do? Nothing. That’s it. You know my position. It is what it is,” Djokovic said after edging past 64th-ranked Quentin Halys 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-5).

The Age revealed on Wednesday night that Djokovic had approached Australian star Nick Kyrgios, who is yet to compete this year because of an ankle injury, about playing practice sets ahead of the Australian Open.

Kyrgios is also weighing up the possibility of joining a stellar Kooyong Classic field, including world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz, Alex de Minaur, Taylor Fritz and Andy Murray.

The Australian Open will let fans watch organised practice sessions between star players – dubbed ‘perfect practice’ – during next week’s qualifying tournament as part of a new revenue stream for the cash-strapped event, which was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are talking with the Australian Open about doing something in a week prior to the start of the tournament,” Djokovic said.

“Yes, I chatted with Nick, and I would like to play with him, and he accepted, but he wants shorter sets. Let’s see if that works out.

“I feel like most of us need matches and practice matches, and as many points that we can play prior to the Australian Open.

“I’m happy if that will be organised. We’re still not having 100 per cent confirmation, but I think most likely [it] will happen with Nick, so I’m looking forward to that.”

The Djokovic-Kyrgios relationship turned for the better in the past two years after reaching a low during the 2021 Australian Open, when the Canberran labelled him “a very strange cat” and a “tool”, while criticising his conduct during the early stages of the pandemic.

But Kyrgios was arguably the Serbian superstar’s biggest advocate last January, hitting out at his treatment on arrival in Australia before being deported.

‘I wasn’t his favourite guy – let’s take it that way – for many years. But he was one of the very few that stood by me last year.’

“I wasn’t his favourite guy – let’s take it that way – for many years. But he was one of the very few that stood by me last year, and I respect that and appreciate that,” Djokovic said.

“In those moments, you can actually see who truly supports you and who is by your side and who goes with, I guess, the flow of the society and the pressures that media put on you.

“He was giving me undivided support in the moments where I was being challenged a lot, and him as an Australian, I respected that a lot. Since then, our relationship has changed for better.”

Djokovic’s bid for a second Adelaide title, to go with the one he won in 2007, moves on to the quarter-finals despite a surprise early scare and prolonged resistance from determined Frenchman Halys.

The nine-time Australian Open champion dropped his opening service game and fell 2-5 behind before bouncing back to win on his third match point in front of another pro-Djokovic crowd.

The Serbian contingent in The Drive stands seems to increase every time he plays, and they were again vocal in supporting their hero, who hailed Halys’ gutsy display.

“It was a great performance from my opponent today. I want to congratulate him for great quality tennis and a great fight … he played like a top 10-player today, no doubt,” Djokovic said.

“As far as my game goes, I feel good on the court. I didn’t have such a great start. I lost my serve early, and he was serving really well – fast, big serves, hitting his spots in the box very well.

“It’s difficult to play on this kind of court that is really fast. It kind of favours the server. It’s tough to break the serve of a big server like him today, so two tie-breaks were probably the most realistic score of today’s match, and I’m just glad to overcome a tough challenge.”

Djokovic is just one win away from doing his bit to lock in a much-anticipated semi-final against Russian star Daniil Medvedev, in what would be a rematch of the 2021 Australian Open and US Open finals.

He will first have to get past Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who earned his shot at Djokovic with a 6-4, 6-3 defeat of Roman Safiullin earlier on Thursday.

Djokovic is unbeaten in seven career clashes with Shapovalov and conceded only two sets, but it should still be a step up for the 21-time grand slam champion, who has been more solid than outstanding in Adelaide so far.

“Denis is one of the most complete players out there,” Djokovic said.

“He’s got a very dynamic style of tennis, a big serve, he comes to the net, he is comfortable playing from the back of the court, [he’s a] great athlete, moves fantastic.

“We haven’t played for a while, so I’m looking forward to that. Every match now gets tougher, and I’m going to be ready for that.”

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