Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The 16-time Grand Slam winning Champion Novak Djokovic on Monday broke down in tears while paying an emotional tribute to NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter and seven others on Monday. The moment took place after the Serbian defeated Milos Raonic in Australian Open quarterfinal clash 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7-1) to set up semifinal match against arch-rival Roger Federer. Speaking in the on-court interview to tennis legend John McEnroe at Rod Laver Arena, a teary-eyed Djokovic described the basketball star Bryant as his “mentor” and a “friend”.
Also read: Lebron James pays heartfelt tribute to Kobe Bryant
“It really caught us by surprise. He was one of the greatest athletes of all time. He inspired myself, and many many others around the world. I had the fortune to have a personal relationship with him over the past 10 years. When I needed some advice and some support he was there for me,” he said.
"He was there for me"@DjokerNole pays tribute to his late friend and mentor Kobe Bryant.#AO2020 | #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/k8sRHcBATw
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2020
Djokovic, who was sporting a jacket which had “KB 24” written on it, further added: “He was my mentor, my friend and it’s just heartbreaking to see and to hear what has happened to him and his daughter.” Djokovic, then broke off, to compose himself.
Djokovic and many other legends of tennis, including Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, have voiced their grief over the death of the former LA Lakers shooting guard, regarded as one of the greatest basketball players in history. On Monday, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios arrived for his quarter-final wearing a Lakers shirt, and American doubles pair Coco Gauff and Caty McNally had tributes to Bryant scrawled on their trainers.
‘May the best player win’
Meanwhile, Djokovic, who is set to face the 20-time Grand Slam Champion Roger Federer next, said that he has immense respect for the Swiss maestro. “I have tremendous respect for Roger,” he said. “The match-ups I have had against Roger and Rafa (Nadal) have made me the player I am today. May the best player win,” he added.
While Federer — into a record 15th Australian Open semi — has laboured through 14 sets in his last three matches, Djokovic has had a much easier ride, dropping just one set all tournament.
(With AFP inputs)
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