In a bizarre twist of events, Novak Djokovic pulled out of his exhibition match against Jannik Sinner just minutes before it could start, but returned to play after the first set had ended.
The World No 1 is a part of a small set of players – including Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep and Serena Williams – that had been serving their quarantine period in Adelaide. The group was expected to play a set of exhibition matches at Memorial Drive ahead of their participation at the Australian Open, starting February 8.
However, just minutes before the 17-time Grand Slam champion was expected to take to the court against Sinner, he pulled out of the match citing ‘multi-layered blisters’ on his playing hand. Instead, his compatriot Filip Krajinovic – who had come to Adelaide as Djokovic’s sparring partner – took to the court.
OUT: Krajinovic 🇷🇸
IN: @DjokerNole 🇷🇸
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 29, 2021
After the Serb won the opening set 6-3 though, as rumours started floating inside the stadium that Djokovic may soon step on court, the eight-time Australian Open champion did indeed return to play.
Carrying just a few racquets instead of his entire kit, he replaced Krajinovic in the match and won the second set 6-3, giving the Serbians a straight-sets win over the Italian teenager – who is Nadal’s training partner in Adelaide.
“I’m sorry that I didn’t step on the court from the beginning. I had to do some treatment with my physio and I wasn’t feeling my best the last couple of days,” Djokovic said after playing his set.
“I didn’t know how I was going to react, but I wanted to play, I wanted to get out here. Thank you so much for making our day and making our year. We didn’t play in front of this big a crowd in 12 months so this is something very special.”
Djokovic didn’t show any obvious discomfort during play, although television cameras did capture a raw blister on the palm of his right hand.
“It’s not easy, but it’s part of what we do. We’re professional athletes, we learn over the years to play with the pain. It’s just a question of whether the pain is bearable or not,” he added.
“So obviously, coming off a hard training block and having the ATP Cup and Australian Open around the corner, you don’t want to risk it too much. But the emotion was so strong in me to come out on the court today, seeing almost full stands, I just had to play. That’s it, I had to play.”