Novak Djokovic tends to be intensely loyal to his backroom team, but he has made a big change on the eve of the first major of 2023.
The nine-time Australian Open champion is back in Australia after being given permission to travel to the country after his deportation last January.
Djokovic saw his visa to enter Melbourne rescinded after his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 sparked a public backlash that inspired the Australian government to remove the Serbian from the country.
While this latest stir created by Djokovic in Australia is minor compared to that international storm, it has emerged that he is no longer working with physio Ulises Badio.
Badio has been a prominent member of Djokovic’s inner circle since 2017, but he has been replaced by Claudio Zimaglia.
This is a big change to the Djokovic team, with Badio credited with helping the Serbian after his elbow problems in 2017.
He was also at the heart of the story as Djokovic recovered from what was later claimed to be an ‘abdominal muscle tear’ during the 2021 Australian Open match against Taylor Fritz.
Not only did Djokovic overcome what is a serious injury in that match, he went on to win four more matches to lift the title.
“I went to an MRI and then MRI has shown a tear. People questioned that, I understand they questioned that there is a tear – there is,” said Djokovic at the time.
“I can leave the doctors and physio to confirm that but for me, it was definitely a huge obstacle and a challenge.
“It is a muscle tear, oblique abdominal muscle. I felt it right away, I felt the snap.
“I know there have been many speculations, people saying that it’s impossible, but everyone has the right to criticize others. I felt it was a bit unfair at times.
“It took me a lot of mental energy to focus solely on what I needed to in order to be able to compete.
“We tried not to talk about what someone says in the media. It does come to me, it’s tough to avoid, but it’s unnecessary for me.
“It seems unfair for some people to judge without checking first.
“But I have experienced it in the past, it probably isn’t the last time. I didn’t allow it to hinder my performance, winning the title is my answer.
“I am human, I can’t say “I don’t care”, I do, but I have developed thick skin over the years and I am able to refocus on what matters to me the most.”
Badio hit the headlines when he was filmed making a drink for Djokovic during the Paris Masters tournament in November.
While there was no suggestion Djokovic was taking anything illegal in his semi-final match, a media storm was stirred up as his team moved to shield Badio from the camera as he added the ingredients to the drink.
Now Badio has left the Djokovic camp, with the 21-time Grand Slam champion certain to be asked about this change when he faced the media in Adelaide ahead of his first match on Australian soil in two years next week.
Djokovic is the strong favourite to win another Australian Open title, as he looks to join Rafael Nadal on 22 Grand Slam titles in the race to claim the most major titles in the history of tennis.