© Hiroshi Sato

Novak Djokovic will face Alexei Popyrin in the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships first round.

Djokovic, Coric & Co. Thrill Japanese Fans In Tokyo On ATP Sunday

World No. 1 interacts with fans at practice session ahead of tournament debut


That is how World No. 1 Novak Djokovic greeted the Japanese crowd on ATP Sunday at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, where he practiced with fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in front of a near capacity crowd on Colosseum. This is the top seed’s debut at this ATP 500 event.

“[I’m] very happy to play for the first time at a new tournament,” Djokovic said on the court. “I’ve watched this tournament over the years on the TV, it’s always had the best players in the field. Hopefully this can be one of my many appearances in this tournament.”

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Djokovic had fun with the Japanese crowd, embracing all of the cheering and support. After practising for about an hour and a half, the top seed spent plenty of time signing autographs, walking along two full sides of the court to interact with the fans.

“I’ve heard a lot of positive impressions about this tournament from a lot of players, so I’m just excited and grateful to be here,” Djokovic said. “I want to thank everybody for coming out. There is such a big number today for the practice.”

There were three featured practices on Colosseum. In addition to Djokovic and Kecmanovic, Borna Coric hit with Japan’s Yosuke Watanuki and Croatia’s Marin Cilic trained with Moldova’s Radu Albot.

“It’s the most unbelievable practice of my whole life,” Coric told the crowd, in awe of the number of people.

His sparring partner, Watanuki, lost in the first round of qualifying Saturday. But he was inspired to get to practise in front of so many of his home fans with the tournament’s second seed.

“Yesterday’s loss was a tough one and I came in today slightly sorry for the fans who were in the stadium after losing. But playing with the second seed in front of a huge crowd, it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it,” said Watanuki, who does not believe such a mass of fans attend practice at any other event. “Probably not, Japanese fans are very special in that way.”

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