Dubai: Top seed and world No.1 Novak Djokovic is ready for action at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this week, in what will be his first tournament since lifting the Australian Open trophy for the eighth time last month.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion will be bidding for his fifth title in Dubai, after winning in 2009-11 and 2013, and this will be his first appearance here since 2016 when an eye infection led to him retiring during his quarter-final against Feliciano Lopez.
“Feel great,” he said on the eve of the tournament. “I started off the season in best possible way. Came to Dubai with my family, children, so spending a lot of time on the beach, quality family time during the day, playing during the night. I haven’t played in Dubai for I think three years, so I’m looking forward to compete back again at the tournament where I’ve done well in the past.
“I really enjoy this city. I’ve been coming now traditionally to Dubai in the pre-season for at least seven to 10 days of training before I head to Australia. I feel very welcomed. There’s also a very big Serbian community here so big support on the stands. Can’t wait to kick off.”
Having started the season so well, winning the ATP Cup as well as the Australian Open, a run of 13 straight singles victories plus two in doubles, his confidence is naturally high.
“Of course, I mean, when you win a Grand Slam at the beginning of the season, I’ve been lucky to win so many Australian Opens, that always started off my year in a great way, in a very positive manner, gave me a lot of confidence. I know that every time I would win Australian Open I would have a great season after that. Hopefully that can be the case again,” added the top seed, eager to avoid complacency.
“I’m aware of the streak. I’m aware of the fact that I’m feeling great on the court. Of course, when you win that many matches, it translates to your high level of confidence. But I’m aware that it could easily be disturbed, as well, and lost. I try to approach every tournament and every match as a fresh start basically. Continuation of the great streak, yes, from the confidence perspective, but fresh start game-wise.”
He will play Tunisian wild card Malek Jaziri at 7pm on Monday, and saw his opponent’s comical reaction at the draw ceremony when he discovered who he would play.
“We are good friends,” said Djokovic. “We got along very well since I came on the tour. He was very nice to me. We know each other well. We trained a lot in Dubai actually, of course the other tournaments. I’ve played him here four, five years ago. Yeah, it’s quite odd for him to always draw first seeds so many times. He’s going to get probably a lot of support, as well.
“He’s a very nice guy, very talented. He has a good serve, forehand, plays a lot of slice, mixing up the game. He has a great touch. Obviously these kind of match ups, he doesn’t have much to lose. He’s going to go out, he’s going to try, probably come out with some shots and a game that will probably disrupt my rhythm, use the momentum, use the crowd the first match. That’s why I take it very seriously. I will try to prepare for that one best possible way.”
His fans might be surprised, and his opponents be afraid, that despite being ranked No.1 in the world and holding 17 majors, he still believes that he can improve.
“Yes, there is room for improvement. That’s my biggest motivation,” revealed the 32-year-old. “That’s probably one of the biggest reasons why I keep on playing this sport and why I put a lot of effort and dedication every single day. I feel that tennis is a great place for me to improve not just in tennis but also as a human being to build my character. Tennis, like no other place in life, triggers me, triggers my emotions. It’s a great way for me to understand myself on a deeper levels. I see tennis as a great school of life in a way.
“I also enjoy it. I really love to hold the racket. I enjoy the process. I enjoy the journey. I have a great team of people around me that puts a lot of energy and faith in me, in my game. Together we create beautiful things on the court. I’m grateful for that.”
Djokovic will also play doubles, partnering Marin Cilic for the first time, and they are drawn against top seeds and Australian Open winners Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The tournament continues until 29th February and as well as Novak Djokovic features ATP Finals winner Stefanos Tsitsipas, 2020 Rotterdam and Montpellier champion Gael Monfils and 2018 Dubai winner Roberto Bautista Agut.