Novak Djokovic says he has been welcomed by “most” players he has seen in Dubai as he returns to tennis following his Australian deportation saga.

The world No.1 was upbeat at a news conference on the eve of the Dubai Tennis Championship on Sunday, his first tournament since missing the year’s first grand slam over his vaccination status.

“It wasn’t really difficult for me to pick up a racquet and go out and practise the sport and just play,” the Serbian told reporters.

“I’m as well prepared as I possibly can be.”

Djokovic’s presence brings an unusual amount of scrutiny to the annual tournament near Dubai International Airport and authorities also apparently took extraordinary steps of their own.

Organisers blocked most photographers and videographers from Djokovic’s news conference without explanation.

Earlier, security guards were out in force at Djokovic’s practice, questioning reporters who tried to grab a glimpse of him serving and swinging on the court.

The guards acknowledged these restrictions were not in place for any other players.

Novak Djokovic was protected by authorities in Dubai.
Novak Djokovic was protected by authorities in Dubai. Credit: AAP

The saga of Djokovic’s cancelled travel visa on the eve of the Australian Open drew intense interest around the world, shining a light on how public officials approach pandemic restrictions and exemptions.

But Djokovic admitted the dramatic legal dispute also took a personal toll.

“There were lots of emotions after I came back from Australia,” he said.

“It was strange. I was disappointed, I was sad about the way it all has played out and the way I left the country.”

Djokovic said he had been welcomed by “most of the players” he had seen since arriving in Dubai, a contrast to Melbourne Park.

“I haven’t seen too many players, but most of the players that I’ve seen have been positive and welcoming,” he said.

“It’s nice to see obviously. I can’t say that was the case in Australia. It was a little bit strange. But here it’s well so far.”

Novak Djokovic spoke to a media pack at a tournament for the first time this year.
Novak Djokovic spoke to a media pack at a tournament for the first time this year. Credit: Francois Nel/Getty Images

Restricted future in tennis

Djokovic’s fierce commitment to stay unvaccinated against COVID-19 for the time being means he could be barred from competing in a series of upcoming grand slams.

The 34-year-old has made it clear that this is a cost he’s willing to bear.

“Whatever tournament I’ll be able to play I’ll be trying to get to that country and play that tournament,” he said, acknowledging his freedom of movement and access to tournaments will depend on local virus restrictions.

“I really can’t choose. It’s really about where I can go and play.”

Dubai authorities do not require visitors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter.

After hours spent ripping backhands on the baseline in Dubai, Djokovic added he was excited about returning to the tournament he has won five times.

“Having previous positive experiences on the court and titles obviously connects me to this place even more,” he said, noting that players had so far seemed warm and welcoming unlike in Australia.

“We’ll play this tournament and see how it goes further down the line.”