Tennis-Djokovic thrilled to return to Indian Wells after five year hiatus

  • Tennis
  • Wednesday, 28 Feb 2024

FILE PHOTO: Jan 26, 2024; Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Novak Djokovic of Serbia in action against Jannik Skinner of Italy in the semi-finals of the men?s singles at the Australian Open. Mandatory Credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic on Tuesday said he was excited to be back in Indian Wells to compete at the BNP Paribas Open for the first time since 2019 after U.S. travel restrictions related to COVID-19 had kept him away.

The world number one is seeking an unprecedented sixth title at the Masters 1000 event that begins next week and is regarded as the biggest tennis tournament outside of the four Grand Slams.

"It has been five years, way too long to not be part of the Tennis Paradise tournament, one of the best tournaments in the world without a doubt," Djokovic said in a video from the small, picturesque city in the Southern California desert.

"It's probably the favorite Masters tournament of so many players including myself. I can't wait to come and perform once again in front of some of the best tennis fans that we have on the tour."

The Serb won the first of his 24 Grand Slams at the Australian Open in 2008 and backed that up a few months later by capturing his first Indian Wells crown.

"The first time I won the title in Indian Wells, it was one of the greatest titles of my career at that point. I remember I played Mardy Fish in the finals," he said.

"I was fortunate to win the tournament another four times and played some epic matches in the finals against (Roger) Federer and (Rafa) Nadal and many of the great players in that era. I'm really looking forward to coming back."

Three-times Indian Wells champion Nadal is set to compete at the tournament after missing last month's Australian Open due to a muscle tear.

The 2020 BNP Paribas Open was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak and Djokovic missed the next three editions as the United States did not allow unvaccinated foreigners to enter the country.

Djokovic was spotted in Los Angeles on Sunday night watching fellow sporting great Lionel Messi and his Major League Soccer side Inter Miami take on LA Galaxy.

Carlos Alcaraz and Elena Rybakina are the defending champions at this year's BNP Paribas Open, which runs from March 3-17.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Michael Perry)

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