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Novak Djokovic responds after losing Grand Slam race to Rafael Nadal

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RAFAEL NADAL became the first man in history to win a record 21st Grand Slam title when he triumphed at the Australian Open last month.

Novak Djokovic has reacted to Rafael Nadal’s “incredible” Australian Open win on his return to tennis. The world No 1 was the heavy favourite to win his tenth title in Melbourne but was deported on the eve of the tournament, having arrived unvaccinated. Nadal’s victory allowed him to surpass Djokovic and Roger Federer as the most decorated man in Grand Slam history with 21 titles.

Djokovic was the favourite to pull ahead from his rivals and win a record 21st Grand Slam title at last month’s Australian Open, having won the event nine times before.

But he ran into trouble when the tournament required all players to be fully vaccinated, eventually entering the country with a medical exemption.

The world No 1 then had his visa cancelled twice, winning his first appeal but losing the second, and was deported from the country the night before the Aussie Open began.

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It was Nadal who won his second title in Melbourne Park during Djokovic’s absence, 13 years on from the first.

The world No 5 was playing just his second tournament after a six-month injury layoff, having ended his 2021 season early with a left foot problem.

And he managed to turn things around against the tournament’s highest seed Daniil Medvedev in the final, mounting a comeback from two sets down for the first time since Wimbledon 2007 to pick up a record 21st Grand Slam title.

It had been Medvedev who denied Djokovic the chance of both a 21st Major title and the Calendar Grand Slam in last year’s US Open final, and the world No 1 recently revealed that the 26-year-old sent him a private text message 45 minutes after losing the final in Melbourne.

Now, the nine-time champion Down Under has shared his thoughts on Nadal’s triumph in full for the first time.

“Incredible performance. Amazing fighter he is,” the 34-year-old said, speaking in Dubai where he has finally started his 2022 season.

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“He said it, definitely one of the biggest wins of his life, in the circumstances, coming back after an injury.”

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Djokovic commended his rival, who he has faced a huge 58 times on tour, for achieving such a feat so soon after his injury struggles.

He continued: “I think it was four to five months ago that he was on crutches, and now he’s winning a Slam.

“I mean, it’s incredible. I got tons of respect for him.”

The Serb also touched on his absence from Australia, having previously admitted he liked his chances had he been able to play.

“I don’t want to take anything away from his victory me not participating in the tournament regardless,” he added.

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Djokovic finally kicked off his 2022 season in Dubai on Monday, 80 days since his last match.

He received a warm reception from the crowd as he defeated 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti 6-3 6-3, and next faces the winner of a clash between Karen Khachanov and Alex de Minaur.