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Novak Djokovic produces classy gesture as he pays retirement tribute to Maria Sharapova

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Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova

Novak Djokovic had a close relationship with Maria Sharapova, who announced her retirement on Wednesday.

Novak Djokovic told the crowd at the Dubai Championships to give Maria Sharapova a round of applause after the WTA star revealed she was retiring from the sport. After struggling with injury, which left her languishing at 373 in the world, Sharapova has decided to leave tennis at the age of 32.

Novak Djokovic and mic

Her announcement came just hours before Djokovic’s second-round match at the tournament against Philipp Kohlschreiber.

And the world No 1 was in blistering form as he swept aside Kohlschreiber 6-3 6-1 in just 59 minutes.

After the match, Djokovic was asked to comment on Sharapova and the Serbian took time to pay tribute to the five-time Grand Slam champion.

He said: “I would like everyone to give her a big round of applause for everything she has done in her career. She deserves it, definitely.

Maria Sharapova plays

“She’s a great fighter. As dedicated as someone can really be in our sport.

“The will power and the willingness to overcome all of the obstacles she had especially in the last five or six years with injuries, surgeries and trying to fight back and come back to the court and play on her desired level is truly inspirational to see what a mind of the champions she has.

“I’m sorry that it had to end with an injury but at the same time she had a fantastic career, she can be proud of herself.”

Sharapova’s decision was revealed in a heartfelt article in Vanity Fair where she explained that her body “had become a distraction” because of the ongoing injuries she was dealing with.

Maria Sharapova

She said: “How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known? How do you walk away from the courts you’ve trained on since you were a little girl, the game that you love—one which brought you untold tears and unspeakable joys—a sport where you found a family, along with fans who rallied behind you for more than 28 years?

“I’m new to this, so please forgive me. Tennis—I’m saying goodbye.

“One of the keys to my success was that I never looked back and I never looked forward. I believed that if I kept grinding and grinding, I could push myself to an incredible place. But there is no mastering tennis—you must simply keep heeding the demands of the court while trying to quiet those incessant thoughts in the back of your mind:

Novak Djokovic

“Did you do enough—and more—to prepare for your next opponent? You’ve taken a few days off—your body’s losing that edge. That extra slice of pizza? Better make up for it with a great morning session.

“Listening to this voice so intimately, anticipating its every ebb and flow, is also how I accepted those final signals when they came.

“One of them came last August at the U.S. Open. Behind closed doors, thirty minutes before taking the court, I had a procedure to numb my shoulder to get through the match. Shoulder injuries are nothing new for me—over time my tendons have frayed like a string.

Novak Djokovic playing

“I’ve had multiple surgeries—once in 2008; another procedure last year—and spent countless months in physical therapy. Just stepping onto the court that day felt like a final victory, when of course it should have been merely the first step toward victory. I share this not to garner pity, but to paint my new reality: My body had become a distraction.

“Throughout my career, Is it worth it? was never even a question—in the end, it always was. My mental fortitude has always been my strongest weapon. Even if my opponent was physically stronger, more confident—even just plain better—I could, and did, persevere.

“I’ve never really felt compelled to speak about work, or effort, or grit—every athlete understands the unspoken sacrifices they must make to succeed. But as I embark on my next chapter, I want anyone who dreams of excelling in anything to know that doubt and judgment are inevitable: You will fail hundreds of times, and the world will watch you.

“Accept it. Trust yourself. I promise that you will prevail.”

Dubai Tennis: Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas on course for final face-off
novak djokovic

Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the top two seeds at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, remain on course for a final showdown after both players secured straight sets wins on Wednesday to reach the quarter-finals.

World No 1 and top seed Djokovic proved far too strong for qualifier Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first evening match on Centre Court, defeating the veteran German 6-3, 6-1 in just 59 minutes.

“I thought I was very sharp from the beginning, mentally,” Djokovic said. “It took me the first few games to get used to the tricky conditions today. It was pretty windy on the court, even though maybe it doesn’t seem like that from outside.”

Novak Djokovic

Kohlschreiber, a former world No 16 who is now ranked No 80, managed to hang with Djokovic for the first five games, but once the 17-time grand slam champion broke for a 4-2 lead, it was all one-way traffic. Trying to force his way back into the match, Kohlschreiber started to produce a litany of errors as the gulf in class quickly became apparent.

The pair had faced off 13 times prior to Wednesday night’s encounter, including four times in 2019, and while Kohlschreiber has only managed two wins, one of those came in straight sets at Indian Wells last year.

“Philipp is a tough opponent. You have to take him seriously regardless of his ranking,” Djokovic said. “He’s someone that has tremendous experience of playing on a big stage. He’s played so many big tournaments in his life. He actually likes this kind of challenge.

novak djokovic greet

“Twelve months ago he beat me in straight sets in Indian Wells, so I knew coming into this match I had to be sharp, stay focused all the way till the end, and not allow him to feel like he has a chance to come back to the match if I’m in front.”

Djokovic will next face seventh seed Karen Khachanov for a place in the semi-finals, and the 32-year-old Serb is prepared for a tough match against a player he has beaten twice in three meetings.

“Karen is a very powerful player. It’s going to be a great challenge for both of us,” Djokovic said. “I know what I need to do. I know his game. I’m going to prepare myself well with my team, try to be as sharp as I have in the first two matches.”

Tsitsipas, the world No 6 and second seed, was pushed closer by Alexander Bublik earlier in the day, but came through 7-6, 6-4 in one hour and 35 minutes to inflict a second defeat on the world No 47 Kazakh in the space of four days. The previous victory took place last week at the semi-final stage of the Marseille Open, where Tsitsipas successfully defended the title he won 12 months ago.

It has therefore been nonstop for the Greek, who played the Marseille final on Sunday, travelled on Monday, and played successive matches in Dubai on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Novak Djokovic

“Right now, I feel a bit sleepy,” Tsitsipas, 21, said immediately after his win over Bublik. “That’s because I sleep late every day. It’s difficult for me with the jetlag.

“On the other hand, I’m playing pretty relaxed. I feel my body is flexible, and I feel my mobility is good. I’m not really tight, which is good.”

Tsitsipas, who in November won the biggest title of his career at the ATP Finals in London, next faces big-hitting German Jan-Lennard Struff, who produced the most emphatic win of the day when he thrashed Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1, 6-0 in 39 minutes.

Also in Tsitsipas’ side of the draw, Russian sixth seed Andrey Rublev defeated Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic 7-6, 6-0 and will face Dan Evans in the quarter-finals after the British No 1 beat France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert in dramatic style, saving three match points in a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 victory.

In the final match on Wednesday evening, third seed Gael Monfils made light work of Japanese qualifier Yasutaka Uchiyama, claiming a 6-1, 6-2 win to set up an all-French quarter-final tie with Richard Gasquet, who eliminated eighth-seeded compatriot Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-4.

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