Novak Djokovic held back tears as he paid tribute to Kobe Bryant after his quarterfinals win over Milos Raonic at the 2020 Australian Open on Tuesday. The NBA legend and global sports icon died when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed in Calabasas, California on Sunday killing him, his daughter Gianna and seven other people on board.
Tributes have poured in from across the world in the last two days and it has come from people in all walks of life. Bryant was loved not only for his contributions on the court but for also his contributions as a person off the court.
The Serbian tennis player came out for his match against Raonic wearing a jacket with the words KB emblazoned alongside his two Lakers jersey numbers 24 and 8 with a heart. Djokovic's thoughts were clearly with Bryant as he demolished Raonic in straight sets but struggled for words after the match.
The world no. 2 spoke about his relationship with the Los Angeles Lakers legend and called him a mentor and a friend having had a close personal relationship for the last 10 years. He admitted that it was difficult to find the right words as like everyone he was also caught by surprise and was unable to digest the tragic event.
"I don't know what we could say. It really caught us by surprise," Djokovic told John McEnroe during the on-court interview after his win over Raonic. "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," Djokovic added while holding back tears.
Djokovic had praised Bryant's influence on his career just two days prior to the crash where he also spoke about training with soccer legend Cristiano Ronaldo. He admitted that he became the student when he was alongside the two legends of sport.
The Serbian, former world no. 1 will now take on Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the Australian Open on Thursday night. The Swiss maestro survived seven match points against Tennys Sandgren in his quarterfinal clash prior to Djokovic's match against Raonic.