As the tour continued in March, he was unable to enter the United States, because of his unvaccinated status, to compete in the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami Gardens, Fla. Back in action, he struggled in the early events on clay before winning in Rome and then failed to hit the high notes required in his quarterfinal loss at the French Open to Rafael Nadal, his longtime rival.
“Certainly, this year has not been the same like the last years,” Djokovic said. “It has started the way it has started, and it has affected me definitely in the first several months of the year. I was not feeling great generally. I mean mentally, emotionally, I was not at a good place.
“I wanted to play, but at the same time when I went out on the court in Dubai, which was the first tournament of the year, I just felt so much pressure and emotions happening. I wasn’t feeling myself on the court. I realized at that point that it’s going to take some time, that I have to be patient and that sooner or later I will get myself in the state, the optimal state, where I would like to be.”
Wimbledon, once again, turned out to be the tonic. It was where he regained his mojo when he broke out of the biggest slump of his career to win in 2018. And though he continues to play precious little grass-court tennis, skipping all the official lead-in tournaments on the surface, he was once again able to find his footing and range in a hurry to win his 21st major singles title, one behind Nadal’s record.
Goran Ivanisevic, Djokovic’s coach and a former Gencic student and Wimbledon champion, was with Djokovic in Australia though he was never detained himself.
“This was a huge thing that happened to him,” Ivanisevic said, explaining that though many expected him to return to the practice court right after the deportation, “it’s not happening like this.”