Why is Novak Djokovic talking about his ‘special relationship’ with a Melbourne tree?

<span>Photograph: Novak Djokovic Instagram</span>
Photograph: Novak Djokovic Instagram

Novak Djokovic may not have received the universal love from Australian fans that other tennis greats of his era enjoyed, but the world No 1 has now opened up about a “special relationship” he has had in Melbourne and the strength it has given him over the past 15 years.

After his four-set defeat of local hope Alexei Popyrin on Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night, the Serbian star spoke about a particular spot in Melbourne’s botanical gardens, home to a special tree he has kept returning to whenever he’s in town.

Asked by a journalist at his post-match press conference about being spotted returning to one specific tree at the gardens , Djokovic said: “There’s one particular tree that I’ve been having [a] special relationship with, so to say, in the last 15 years.

“I love every corner of [the] botanical gardens. I think it’s [an] incredible treasure for Melbourne to have such a park and nature in the middle of the city.

“I got connected with that tree. I just liked it. I liked its roots and the trunks and branches and everything. So I started climbing it years ago. That’s it. I just have a connection.”

Locals have reported seeing Djokovic return to a specific tree after eating pumpkin soup, the Age newspaper reported.

Djokovic spoke about how meditating at the tree helps him to feel grounded. While speaking about the tree, he was careful not to reveal its location to protect his sense of privacy.

“That particular tree, I cannot reveal which one, I’ll try to keep it discreet for myself when I’m there to have my own time. I like to ground myself and connect with that old friend,” he said.

In recent years the tennis star has not always been embraced by Australians, especially when compared with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In 2022 he was deported before that year’s Australian Open after refusing a Covid vaccine in a city that had endured one of the longest periods of lockdown in the world.

Djokovic’s reception at Melbourne Park continues to be mixed. During his match with Popyrin on Wednesday, he lashed out at a fan who was heckling him, telling the spectator to “come down and say it to my face”.

“When you confront somebody, unfortunately for him, he didn’t have the courage to come down. That’s what I was asking him. If you have courage, if you’re such a tough man, tough guy, come down and tell it to my face, and let’s have a discussion about it,” Djokovic said.

Related: Djokovic challenges Australian Open heckler before surviving Popyrin scare

“I’m not going to sit and say it’s all good. It’s not good. Of course, it upsets me. I’m frustrated. I don’t want to be experiencing that, but I have to accept it as it is,” he said.

In 2016, Djokovic posted a picture of himself meditating while standing against his favourite tree.

“This tree has been here a long time, much longer than any one of us,” he wrote. “Imagine how much energy and wisdom it has! So grateful that I can spend time in the nature. That’s what the day off looks like.”

While its exact location may be a mystery, a 2017 Instagram post reveals what Djokovic’s special tree friend looks like.

“My favourite friend from Melbourne. I am so happy every time we connect,” he wrote.