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Djokovic excited by return to Indian Wells

World number one Novak Djokovic said his excitement level is high as he returns to the ATP Indian Wells Masters for the first time in five years.

The Serb will resume his quest for a record-setting sixth trophy at the ATP-WTA California desert classic, which he last won in 2016 and last played in 2019.

“I’m very excited to come back,” the 24-time Grand Slam champion said on Thursday prior to his upcoming second-round opener against Australian Aleksandar Vukic.

“Time flies incredibly fast – let’s see if I can have a good tournament.”

After taking a six-week pause since he lost an Australian Open semi-final against eventual champion Jannik Sinner, the 36-year-old Djokovic made sure to arrive in California well over a week before the start of play here.

In addition to practicing at the courts at the University of California at Los Angeles he was spotted taking in an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets — who are led by Serbian star Nikola Jokic.

“I’m ready to get into competition. I’ve been training well and I arrived in LA quite early,” Djokovic said.

The Serb said he and his team are fine-tuning their strategy to emphasize the four Grand Slams and other big events on the near-nonstop ATP calendar.

“We want to have clarity on goals and tournaments,” Djokovic said. “I want to focus on the slams and the other big events.

“I want to get the most out of myself in all events where I participate.

“I’m not playing full seasons (any more) and I will be more selective as to where I play. I’ll listen to my body and create a schedule around the big events.

“I want to get the most out of myself in the later stages of my career.”

Djokovic won the Indian Wells title in 2008, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016. The tournament was cancelled in 2020 and he couldn’t play the next three years because of US travel restrictions on those not vaccinated for Covid.

His five titles are tied for the most with Roger Federer and he admitted he misses his retired Swiss rival. He’s also pining for matches against 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal.

The 37-year-old Spaniard, who missed most of last year, returned at Brisbane in January but was forced out of the Australian Open by another injury and on Wednesday withdrew from his planned comeback at Indian Wells due to lack of preparation and fitness.

“Those two guys and Andy Murray are an inseparable part of my development as a player,” Djokovic said. “It’s down to the rivalries I had with those guys.

“But the moment (of retirement) will come for all of us. An era comes to an end but there are so many wonderful moments and milestones we can celebrate.

“The rivalries between us are one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.

“Let’s see how much farther I can push the needle.”

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