Indore: Star India batter Virat Kohli opened up on Sunday about his bond with Serbian tennis superstar Novak Djokovic and how their journey of friendship and mutual admiration started.
In a video posted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Virat said that his talks with Djokovic started when he happened to check his text to him by chance, after once trying to say "hello" to the star tennis player.
"I got in touch with Novak very organically. I was just looking at his Instagram profile once and happened to press his "Message" button. I thought I would say him 'Hello, maybe.' Then I saw a message from him on my DM already. I never saw it myself. The first time I saw my own messages, I saw that he had messaged me himself. Then I was like, Lets check if it is a fake account or not. But then I checked it and it was legitimate. Then we started talking, exchanging messages every now and then. I would congratulate him on all of his fantastic achievements," recalled Virat.
Virat said that when he got his 50th ODI century during the ICC Cricket World Cup semifinal against New Zealand last year, Djokovic sent him a nice message and put up a story for him, congratulating him.
"There has been mutual admiration and respect. It is nice to connect with global athletes who are excelling at a high level. Collectively, it is sending out a message of inspiration to the next generation in a way," said Virat.
Virat said that he has a lot of respect for Djokovic, his journey as a player, and his passion for fitness. He expressed hope of meeting the Serbian icon soon.
"I have a lot of respect for him and his journey; his passion for fitness is something I follow and believe in myself. So there is a lot to connect on. Hopefully, when he comes to India or if I happen to be in a country where he is playing, I will catch up with him and just chill out and have a cup of coffee," said Virat.
Talking about a recent viral video of the Australian batter playing tennis with Djokovic, which also saw the multi-time Grand Slam champion try his hand at cricket, Virat said that Djokovic is better at swinging a bat than cricketers are at swinging a racquet.
"I think Steve did well to return his serve. When you play cricket and have hand-eye coordination, you feel tempted to say, "Yeah, I can do this (play racquet sports). But I have seen racquet sports and how fast these serves are. So I have no chance with it. It will be nice to do that (play tennis) with him as well. The only thing I can maybe teach him is how to hold a bat," said Virat.
In the end, Virat wished Djokovic the very best for the Australian Open, where Djokovic is defending his men's singles title. He also told Djokovic that Australia is personally his favourite place to play cricket and the tennis star will enjoy the support from the Aussie crowd.
"Novak I would like to wish you the very best for the Australian Open. I know how excited and prepared you are for these big events, these grand slams. I have no doubt that we will see Djokovic we have seen over the years. I hope you have a great tournament. Australia is a lovely place to visit and play a tournament. It is my favourite place to play cricket. The love and support from Australians is something great, as they appreciate true sportsmanship and fierce competition, which you have in abundance," he concluded.
Ahead of the tournament, starting on Sunday, Djokovic had also talked about his bond with Virat and described a trip to India.
Speaking to Sony Sports Network, Djokovic said, "Virat Kohli and I have been texting a little bit for a few years and we never got the chance to meet in person. But it was really a privilege and honour to listen to him speak nicely about me and I obviously admire his career, and achievement and everything he has done."
"I have been to India only once so far in my life. It was, I think, 10 or 11 years ago. I came to play an exhibition event in New Delhi for two days. It was a very short stay. So, I really hope that I will be able to come back in the near future, too, because I have a great desire and a great wish to explore your beautiful country, which has so much history, so much culture to offer the world and so much spirituality as well. It is amazing," the 36-year-old continued.
Both Djokovic and Virat are the legends of their sports. Djokovic is a 24-time Grand Slam champion, the most by a male tennis star. If he wins his record-extending 11th Australian Open title, this will be his 25th Grand Slam title, which will break the record of Australia's Margaret Court, who also has 24 major titles.
Virat, on the other hand, has won the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 and the ICC Champions Trophy with India. He is the only player to have smashed 50 ODI centuries. He has also won 'Player of the Tournament' in the ICC T20 World Cup 2014 and 2016 and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 in India for his remarkable batting performances.
In 520 matches, he has scored 26,704 runs (8,848 in Tests, 13,848 in ODIs and 4,008 in T20Is) at an average of 54.27 across all formats, with 80 centuries and 139 fifties. His best score is 254*. He is the fourth-highest run-getter in international cricket history and is chasing legendary Sachin Tendulkar's mark of 100 international centuries and 34,357 runs.
He was also crowned the 'ICC Cricketer of the Decade' in 2020.
India will take on Afghanistan in the second T20I at Indore and Virat will be making his return to T20Is after more than a year following India's crushing loss to England in the ICC T20 World Cup 2022 semifinal by 10 wickets.