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Despite not being a tennis player per se, the basketball great’s life and legacy was remembered and honoured by tennis players.

Novak Djokovic, Australian Open champion, was one of the many tennis players who mourned the loss of Kobe Bryant. They, along with the rest of Melbourne Park, woke up to the gripping news that the NBA legend, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Djokovic recalled his friendship with the former Lakers player during an interview. He also tweeted and started with ‘RIP my friend’.

‘My heart truly mourns over the news today. Kobe was a great mentor and friend to me’, he wrote. ‘You and your daughter will live forever in our hearts. There are not enough words to express my deepest sympathies to the Bryants and every family suffering from this tragedy’.

Naomi Osaka, the women’s champion at the Australian Open, recalled her’s and Bryant’s memories and said that he was like a mentor to her. ‘Hey...I don't really know what to do so I'm writing you this letter’, she said in her tribute to the late Bryant. ‘Thank you for being you. Thank you for inspiring people everywhere, you have no idea how many hearts you've touched. Thank you for being so humble and not acting as big as you are. Thank you for caring and checking up on me after my hard losses. Thank you for randomly texting me “You ok?” Thank you for teaching me so much in the short time I've been lucky enough to have known you. Thank you for existing. You will forever be my big bro/mentor/inspiration. Love you’.

Rafael Nadal, Djokovic’s rival, also joined other players in mourning and expressing their deepest condolences, saying that he was just as shocked at the news as anyone else. ‘I woke up this morning to this terrible news, super sad’, he said in a post-match interview against Nick Kyrgios. ‘He was one of the greatest sportsmen in history’.

Kyrgios, who is a big basketball fan, was holding back tears as he walked onto the court in Bryant’s no. 8 Laker jersey. He wore it while he was warming up for the match. Basketball is practically my life. I watch it every day. I've been following it for as long as I can remember’, he said during his post-match interview. ‘When I woke up to the news, it was pretty emotional. It was pretty heavy, all day. Obviously I was having basketball on at my house, watching the games. I was heavy. It's just tough. It's horrible news’.

Bob and Mike Bryan, Grand Slam Doubles champion, walked onto the court with yellow tape on the back of their legs, resembling Bryant’s shirt numbers and nickname ‘Mamba’. Djokovic later said that Bryant helped him overcome an elbow injury when he was struggling to work his way back to the top. ‘He was one of the people who was really there for me to give me some very valuable advice and guidelines to kind of believe and trust in myself, trust the process that I'll be back’.

Maria Sharapova also shared the same sentiments after learning of the news. ‘This is incredibly difficult to process’, she wrote. ‘I will never forget your generosity, and the time you set aside in some of my most difficult moments. I am forever grateful. My heart is with you and your beautiful family’.

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Words: Carlos Corpus

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