Novak Djokovic pulled out of an Adelaide exhibition because of a blistered hand before appearing on court to play a set after all as Serena Williams beat Naomi Osaka in a super tie-break.
World No 1 Djokovic was scheduled to kick off the “Day at the Drive” event in front of a crowd of 4,000 at Adelaide’s Memorial Drive Tennis Club but pulled out minutes before he was due on court and was replaced by his compatriot Filip Krajinovic.
After his practice partner had won the first set, however, Djokovic bounded into the arena and proceeded to wrap up a 6-3 6-3 win over the Italian teenager. The Serb looked to be largely unhindered by the nasty-looking blister on the palm of his right hand.
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“I’m sorry that I didn’t step in on the court from the beginning,” said Djokovic, who was celebrating his first day of freedom after 14 days in quarantine.
“I had to do some treatment with my physio, I wasn’t feeling my best for the last two days and I didn’t know how I was going to react.
“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 case of whether that pain is bearable or not. Obviously, coming off a hard training block and having the ATP Cup and Australian Open coming up you don’t want to risk it too much.”
Djokovic and Krajinovic will join forces again in the Serbia team defending the ATP Cup in Melbourne next week before the former launches his bid for a ninth Australian Open title on February 8.
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Serena Williams beat Naomi Osaka in a super tie-breaker 6-2 2-6 (10-7) in the second match with both players united in their excitement at playing in front of spectators again after a year of competing in empty arenas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We haven’t played in front of a crowd in over a year so it’s been a really long time,” said Williams, who has been isolating with her three-year-old daughter.
“We were so happy just to be here. Now it’s worth it.”
Williams will be bidding for her 24th Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park, which would tie her with Australian Margaret Court as the most successful player of all time.
“It’s good to always have goals that you try to reach and kind of see what happens,” Williams said.
In the first match of the evening session, Rafael Nadal took down Dominic Thiem 7-5 6-4 in a highly entertaining encounter between the men’s world No 2 and 3.
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