Melbourne – Novak Djokovic went from "persona non grata" to a nine-time Australian Open champion on Sunday, saying the challenges he faced during a roller-coaster month made the triumph that much sweeter.
The world No. 1 routed fourth seed Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 on Sunday for his 18th Grand Slam title, drawing closer to the career record of 20 currently shared by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic, the two-time defending champion, drew a lot of flak ahead of this year's first Grand Slam for petitioning Australian Open organizers to ease Australia's strict quarantine protocols for players, who were forced to isolate for two weeks before the tournament.
He then suffered a painful abdominal injury during the first week and dealt with it all the way to the end.
"I think emotionally it was one of the hardest tournaments I had," he told reporters.
"To be honest, with quarantine and a lot of things happening in the media. The letter that I wrote, ideas and recommendations that I got from players was misinterpreted as (a) list of demands.
"Then the next thing you know within a couple of days I'm persona non grata in this country," the Serbian added.
"I got injured in the third round. It was roller-coaster ride if I can define it in one word.
"I think it makes it even sweeter for me. I'll take a lot of positives from this tournament without a doubt."
After keeping quiet about the nature of his injury, Djokovic said he had torn an abdominal muscle, though it didn't appear to impact him against Medvedev.
Djokovic claimed the win after a difficult, pandemic-affected year in which his public image took a beating.
He was criticized for organizing last year's controversial Adria Tour in the Balkans, where players partied and later tested positive for COVID-19.
He was then disqualified from the U.S. Open in the fourth round for accidentally hitting a ball into a line judge.
"Of course it hurts," he told reporters when asked about the criticism in the media.
"I'm a human being like yourself, like anybody else. I have emotions. I don't enjoy when somebody attacks me in the media openly and stuff. Of course, I cannot say I don't care about it or whatever.
"But 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 is now unbeaten in nine Australian Open finals and will eclipse Federer's record of 310 weeks as world No. 1 next month.
He thanked Australian Open organizers for a "great effort" to host the Grand Slam, which had no crowds for five days as part of a snap lockdown in Melbourne to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.
"Look, there are a lot of mixed feelings about what has happened in the last month or so with tennis players coming to Australia," the 33-year-old said.
"But I think when we draw a line in the end it was a successful tournament for organizers."
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