As the world continues to mourn the sudden departure of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, world number two Novak Djokovic has described the late Bryant as a friend and a mentor.
Djokovic who edged out hard fighting Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals of the ongoing Aussie open to book a place in the semifinals, fought back tears as he spoke about the 41 year old who died in a helicopter crash alongside his daughter and seven others.
The defending champion broke down as he spoke about Bryant afterwards, saying: ‘I don’t know what we could say. It really caught us by surprise.
‘He was one of the greatest athletes of all time, he inspired myself and many other people around the world. I had that fortune to have a personal relationship with him over the last 10 years.
‘When I needed some advice and support, he was there for me. He was my mentor, my friend; it’s just heartbreaking to see what has happened to him and his daughter. It’s unbelievable.’
The only real concern on court for the defending champion came in the third set when he began to experience problems with his contact lenses.
Djokovic took a medical timeout and looked flustered as he continued to seek help from the trainers but that did not stop him overcoming his Canadian opponent to set up an epic semifinal clash against perennial opponent Roger Federer on Thursday.
Vintage Federer saved seven match points to beat Tennys Sandgren earlier on Tuesday.
Looking ahead to the meeting, Djokovic said: ‘Obviously tremendous respect for Roger. He’s been one of the all-time greats and definitely one of my two biggest rivals. The match-ups against Roger and Rafa have made me the player I am today.
‘I hope to get to at least one match point. It was quite amazing what he has done on the court today. It’s not the first time, that’s why he is who he is. Let the better player win.’
Some tennis fans speaking ahead of the Djokovic/Federer clash said they are looking forward to the usual fireworks describing both players as masters of the game.