Novak Djokovic receives a warm welcome during a practice session on Sunday night in Acapulco

© Abierto Mexicano Novak Djokovic receives a warm welcome during a practice session on Sunday night in Acapulco

 

Novak Djokovic receives a warm welcome during a practice session on Sunday night in Acapulco

He hasn't played a match yet, but Novak Djokovic is already happy that he chose to play at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco, where he's making his debut this week.

On Sunday evening, hundreds of fans came to watch Djokovic practise on Cacha Central, the tournament's centre court. The fans greeted him with a screaming ovation as he entered the stadium and cheered throughout his practice. Djokovic, who's been a pro for 14 years, said he hasn't experienced such a night too often in his career.

“I want to thank all the people who came to welcome me and to watch the practice session and to give me this amazing energy that I felt on the court,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference. “I am trying to feed off that energy and obviously play the best tennis that I can possibly play this week and hopefully have a good tournament.”

The 29-year-old right-hander is making his debut in Mexico. He accepted a wild card into the ATP World Tour 500 event last week. The Serbian will have to bring some of his best tennis if he plans on a perfect debut.

The Acapulco field features four Top 10 players, including No. 6 Rafael Nadal, No. 8 Marin Cilic and No. 9 Dominic Thiem. No. 11 David Goffin, No. 17 Nick Kyrgios, No. 18 Jack Sock, and No. 22 John Isner round out the top eight seeds.

“It's very impressive. It's going to be a hard tournament,” said Djokovic, who greeted the press corps with un poquito de español, “Buenos días a todos,” or “Good morning, everyone.”

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The Belgrade native is returning to tournament action for the first time since falling to Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin in five sets during the second round of the Australian Open. The setback was the right-hander's earliest Melbourne exit since 2006, when he was ranked No. 76 and fell to American Paul Goldstein.

“I haven't experienced the first-week Australian Open loss for many years,” said Djokovic, who has won the Grand Slam six times. “But... it's kind of normal and expected to go through those times when you're not playing as best as you can maybe, as best as you want to be, or maybe the opponent has an amazing day. It's sport. You have to deal with it, and you can always learn much more from the losses.”

Per Djokovic's high standards, the World No. 2 has struggled during the past seven months. He's won only two titles during that span – Rogers Cup, an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown, in July; and the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha last month when he knocked off World No. 1 Andy Murray.

In Acapulco, Djokovic will try to return to his form of 12 months ago, when he experienced one of the best stretches of his career. The Serbian won the Australian Open, the March Masters – Indian Wells and Miami – and then didn't miss a step on the European clay, taking the Mutua Madrid Open and Roland Garros to complete his career Grand Slam.

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“All in all, I feel that I'm in a much better state of mind than maybe I was at the end of last year. So I keep on going. I love this sport. That's why I'm playing it. That's why I'm here. I'm just hoping that I can stay healthy and as dedicated as best as I can be,” he said.

Despite his early loss Down Under, Djokovic still followed the remainder of the Australian Open. He, like millions of tennis fans around the world, was excited to see his friends and rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal fight in the final.

“It was amazing to see... Roger win the Australian Open, at his age, after injury and after being absent for so long. It's quite impressive. I congratulate him for that. He never ceases to impress everybody, and it was great to see a Federer-Nadal final,” Djokovic said. “I think it's very important for the sport of tennis that these two guys are back in Grand Slam finals, winning trophies, because they are the icons of tennis. They have contributed so much to the popularity of the sport worldwide.”

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