MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — When Viktor Troicki was banned from tennis for failing to provide a blood sample for a drug test, he was so angry he needed a little distance from the game.
He went skiing — a lot. He spent time with family and traveled with his good friend, Novak Djokovic.
“I just had fun,” he said.
After some time, though, Troicki’s mind started to return to the court.
“When you are forbidden to do something that you love, you start missing it a lot,” he said. “You want to get back and be there again and be even better and prove to the world that you can be there again.”
Troicki is making the most of his second chance at the start of 2015. After capturing just the second title of his career at the Sydney International last week, he’s now into the third round of the Australian Open after upsetting Leonardo Mayer, the 26th seed from Argentina, on Wednesday.
“I’m trying to use any chance, any match, any tournament,” he said. “It’s going well.”
Troicki and the International Tennis Federation differ over what actually happened when the Serbian player was asked to give a blood sample during the 2013 Monte Carlo Masters.
Troicki said he provided a urine sample but wasn’t feeling well and asked to give blood the following day, which the doping control officer permitted him to do. His urine tests later came back negative.
An ITF tribunal panel, however, sided with the doping control officer’s version of events, saying in its ruling: “Her response was that this was not a matter upon which she could advise the player.”
Troicki appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and his original 18-month ban was reduced to 12 months.
The Serb, who was once ranked as high as No. 12, takes accountability for his decision not to provide the sample that day and said he isn’t bitter about losing a year of his career.
But he wants to make one thing clear.
“I never refused (to take the blood test). That’s what hurts me. I want everyone to know that I never refused anything,” he said.
Troicki had the support of many of his fellow players during his suspension, including Djokovic. In fact, Troicki would travel to cities where Djokovic was playing to practice with him and other players away from the tournament sites, where he wasn’t permitted to be.
Then, after the suspension was lifted in July, he began his comeback. Because his ranking wasn’t protected, he had to play on the challenger circuit and try to qualify for ATP tournaments again.
“It gave me some memories back when I was starting (my career),” he said. “I knew I’d done it once, so why not do it again?”
By the end of 2014, he had boosted his ranking enough to gain direct entry into the Australian Open — his first major in more than a year. And now he has a chance to reach the fourth round — matching his previous best result at a Grand Slam tournament — if he beats No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych.
“I never thought of giving up,” he said. “That work is paying off now.”
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.