Novak Djokovic has hit out at critics who accused him of faking a serious abdominal tear at the Australian Open as a distraction tactic when he’s losing.
The world No.1 came under scrutiny at the Australian Open when he claimed to suffer pain in his side as he laboured to a third-round victory over Taylor Fritz.
The Serbian refused to speak in detail about his injury after beating Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals – leading to claims the tear wasn’t as severe as he made it out to be.
But after a 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Daniil Medvedev in the final on Sunday night, Djokovic hit back at his critics and said he was yet to fully heal from the injury.
Djokovic pictured taking a bandage off after defeating Medvedev on Sunday evening. He suffered an abdominal injury in the third round but has been criticised for exaggerating the tear
A beaming Novak Djokovic grabs hold of the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after his ninth Australian Open triumph
The criticism of the tennis great began last month when he issued a list of demands about how players should be treated during their hotel quarantine period upon arrival in Australia.
‘Yeah, of course it (the criticism) hurts,’ Djokovic said.
‘I’m a human being like… anybody else. I have emotions. I don’t enjoy when somebody attacks me in the media openly.’
‘Of course, I cannot say I don’t care about it or whatever. Of course, it does. I have to be honest.’
He said he had never experienced an injury like the one he suffered in the third round.
‘I went to an MRI and then MRI has shown a tear. People questioned that, I understand they questioned that there is a tear – there is,’ he told Nine.
Djokovic receives medical attention during his third round match against Taylor Fritz after experiencing abdominal pain
The Serbian celebrates with a couple of fist pumps and then dropped to the court as he celebrated his 18th Slam success
‘I can leave the doctors and physio to confirm that but for me it was definitely a huge obstacle and a challenge.
‘It’s not healed up. I’ll go and do another MRI tomorrow before I travel back.’
The Serbian star came under fire last month after writing a letter to Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley.
He called on organisers to arrange practice time for the 72 players who were confined to hotel rooms 24 hours a day for two weeks after Covid-19 cases were detected on their chartered flights.
Djokovic suggested players could be quarantined in private houses in Melbourne with tennis courts and gym facilities.
His comments were met with backlash, with some pointing out they would not take advice from a player who himself tested positive for Covid-19 in June last year.
Djokovic hosted the Adria Tour tournament in Croatia and Serbia without apparent social distancing or other measures to stop the virus’ spread.
Medvedev smiles as Djokovic pays tribute to his efforts following Sunday’s final – the pair first hit together when the Russian was ranked No 500 in the world
Djokovic consoles Medvedev at the net after wrapping up one of his most comprehensive final victories in a stellar career
Australian media portrayed the request as petulant and selfish – showing images of Djokovic not wearing a mask in a players’ minibus, which would be required in most taxis and ride-shares in Australia.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended Djokovic, saying his letter merely contained ‘suggestions and ideas’, not demands.
The 33-year-old Serb moved to within two Grand Slam triumphs of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer with his dominant victory on Sunday.
The win saw him snap the 6′ 6′ Russian’s 20-match winning streak to win a ninth title, 13 years after claiming his first.
As the great champions move deeper into their thirties, the younger generation still struggle for a breakthrough.
Djokovic fans in the crowd celebrate him taking the first set 7-5 in what was the ideal start to his latest major final
Medvedev was out-fought and out-thought, his fate finally sealed by an athletic overhead flick from the Serb.
Djokovic got off to a quick start in a first set that rattled along surprisingly quickly, racing to 3-0 by employing an aggressive strategy in which he seemed determined to avoid getting dragged into long rallies.
Medvedev, thinking on his feet, adjusted to the tactic to fire back quickly, but there were always signs that the champion’s greater experience under pressure was going to tell.
A series of quickfire games saw Medvedev get rushed into being broken at 5-6 when he dumped a forehand in the net after saving two set points.
Medvedev stretches to make a return during the second set as Djokovic gave him a stern examination of his game
Djokovic stretches to play a graceful backhand during the opening set in the familiar surroundings of the Rod Laver Arena
The Russian’s groundstrokes do not score that highly on aesthetics but they are usually mighty effective, and he fired hopes of a recovery when breaking at the start of the second.
Yet we were to get a reminder of what still separates Djokovic from the chasing pack. Medvedev was immediately broken back while the Serb proceeded to dial down on his serving, looking rock solid against the uneven quality of his opponent’s returns.
That infected the rest of the Russian’s game, and before you knew it the champion was 5-2 up with Medvedev breaking his racket in frustration.
The Russian can have a volcanic temperament and soon he was constantly looking and gesticulating at his box – a warming sight from the other end of the court.
Covid-19 restrictions limited the crowd to around 50 per cent of the usual capacity – with around 7,500 permitted inside
Djokovic received the backing of a vocal Serbian support as he competed in the final for his latest Grand Slam success
Protesters interrupted the match during the second set and had to be escorted out of the arena by security guards
Djokovic’s returns, the best the sport has ever seen, sealed the second set and Medvedev was unravelling, his recent win at the ATP Finals in London counting for nothing.
Getting smothered by the relentless accuracy coming at him, the size of the occasion seemed to prevent the world number four trying something different. He has been known to revert to serve and volley but there was little sign of that.
A long, attritional game of chess had been promised but on the day Medvedev was not solid enough. With Djokovic’s stomach muscle problems of the past fortnight seemingly a distant memory it was he who was innovating as he sped towards the finish line.
The younger player briefly fired at 2-4 in the third but when he tried to get the crowd going Djokovic responded by reeling off three straight points to snuff out any chance of the revival.
Those in attendance were treated to a spectacular light show and live music before the start of Sunday’s showpiece final
Despite the arena only being half-full, there was an electric atmosphere in Melbourne for the finale of the year’s first Slam
There was an awkward moment in the post-match speeches when the President of Tennis Australia, Jayne Hrdlicka, brought booing at the mention of coming vaccinations and the Victorian government, who had helped so much in getting the tournament played.
In a gracious acceptance Djokovic told Medvedev: ‘It’s a matter of time before you are going to win a Grand Slam but if you don’t mind waiting a few more years. It was a successful tournament. The organisers made a great effort, it was very challenging ona lot of levels.’
Medvedev regretted not making it more of a contest: ‘I really wanted to make the match longer and more entertaining,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t the best day today for me but it’s been a great last three months.’