Djokovic goes from 'persona non grata' to nine-times champion

Tennis - Australian Open - Men's Singles Final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, February 21, 2021 Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates with the trophy after winning his final match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev REUTERS/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic went from "persona non grata" to nine-times Australian Open champion on Sunday, with the challenges faced in a roller-coaster month only making the triumph sweeter, the Serbian said.

The world number one thrashed fourth seed Daniil Medvedev 7-5 6-2 6-2 on Sunday for his 18th Grand Slam title, drawing closer to Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal's all-time record of 20. [L1N2KR05D]

Defending champion Djokovic drew a lot of flak in the lead-up to the year's first Grand Slam for petitioning organisers to ease Australia's strict quarantine protocols for players isolating for two weeks before the tournament.

He then suffered a painful abdominal injury in the first week and had to nurse it to the finish.

"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."

Having kept quiet about his injury, Djokovic said he had torn an abdominal muscle and still needed to recover from it, despite appearing unimpeded against Medvedev.

Djokovic claimed the win after a difficult, pandemic-affected year in which his public image took a battering for a number of incidents.

He was criticised for organising the controversial Adria Tour in the Balkans last year where players partied and later tested positive for COVID-19.

He was 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 of 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 extended his unbeaten run to nine Australian Open finals and will eclipse Roger Federer's record of 310 weeks at world number one next month.

He thanked Australian Open organisers for a "great effort" to host a 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 organisers."

(Additionl reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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