Making his first appearance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships since 2016, four-time champion Novak Djokovic arrives at the ATP 500 event on a 13-match unbeaten streak in 2020.
The 32-year-old will be competing on the ATP Tour for the first time since claiming a record-extending eighth title at the Australian Open last month. He also led Team Serbia to victory at the inaugural ATP Cup in January.
“I missed it. I haven’t played here for [four] years and I look forward to getting out on the court,” said Djokovic. “I started off the season in the best possible way in Australia and I am hoping I can continue that streak this week in Dubai.”
When first-round opponent Malek Jaziri attended this year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships draw, the wild card was hoping for a low-key start to an event where he has faced Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Grigor Dimitrov in the early stages during four of his six-main draw appearances.
“Hopefully this year the draw will be good for me,” said Jaziri on Saturday. “Usually I play a seeded [player] always here. I’ve played Roger, I’ve played Novak, I’ve played Andy. I played Grigor as well two years ago.”
It was not only Jaziri and fellow draw attendees Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev who saw the funny side of the Tunisian’s latest unlucky draw experience at the ATP 500 event. Djokovic also shared his thoughts on the unlikely sequence of events, as he looks to capture his first title in Dubai since 2013.
“We get along very well. He is a super nice guy and we train a lot,” said Djokovic. “It is unfortunate. It is very odd that that happened, in terms of the draw, but he is a very talented player and he is very experienced as well. He has played many years on the Tour.”
Djokovic’s last victory in Dubai came against Jaziri en route to the quarter-finals in 2016, but the World No. 1 is well aware of the threat the 36-year-old poses in high-profile matches.
In Jaziri’s last appearance in Dubai two years ago, the Tunisian upset Dimitrov and Stefanos Tsitsipas to make it through to his maiden ATP 500 semi-final. In the same year, Jaziri also beat Alexander Zverev at ATP 500-level in Beijing.
“He upset Zverev [two years ago] in China, so he doesn’t feel much pressure playing on the centre courts of the big tournaments,” said Djokovic. “I have got to approach that very seriously and try to bring my best game, because my first match after several weeks of a break is tricky. You have to approach it seriously.”
Novak Djokovic on how tennis is a school of life for him
Life couldn’t be any better for Novak Djokovic at this moment in time. The 32-year-old Serbian held the Australian Open trophy for a record eighth time, and in doing so, usurped the No.1 world ranking from one of the ‘Big Three’ – Rafael Nadal.
He is currently on a hot 13-match winning streak, dating back to the end of last year, that includes the ATP Cup and the Australian Open.
His latest major in Melbourne inched Djoker to 17 and within striking distance of the magic number of 20 held by Swiss legend Roger Federer.
He is right now in Dubai, his traditional pre-season home, and enjoying some quality family time with wife Jelena, son Stefan and daughter Tara, enjoying the sun and the pristine sands of the city’s beaches.
In short, life is good for Dubai’s new ‘resident.’
But then, a champion’s endless pursuit of perfection means Djokovic is still in the quest for improvement. This will be his 17th year on tour since he turned pro and Djokovic has left his imprint almost everywhere around the globe and has reached the top step of the pedestal.
But the five-time Wimbledon champion sees tennis as a ‘school of life,’ a process, a journey to create beautiful things.
“There is room for improvement. That’s my biggest motivation,” Djokovic said on Sunday, on what keeps him going this long.
“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,” he added.
Djokovic, who has also won the US Open thrice and the French Open once, also gave a different perspective of the sport.
“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 level. I see tennis as a great school of life in a way,” said Djokovic, who was also ranked No.1 previously in 2011 and 2012, 2014 and 2015 and 2019.
“I really love to hold the racquet. 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,” he added.
Djokovic, a four-time winner of the ATP 500 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, is returning to the tournament after three years.
And Djokovic hopes that his great start to the year will trickle down to the rest 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,” felt Djokovic, who won the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2019.
It is no secret that Djokovic is eyeing Federer’s record but the 2008 Olympics bronze medallist felt sad that the Swiss had to withdraw from Dubai because of a knee surgery.
“I really don’t like to see anybody going through a process of surgery. I’ve been through that once, and hopefully the last time in my life. I know that for doctors, that’s routine-like procedure. But it’s quite invasive. I know it also creates psychological trauma. I’m really sad to see Roger going through that kind of procedure. Roger is Roger. This sport needs him,” said Djokovic, who appeared in 51 Grand Slams on the trot before a right elbow injury saw him undergo surgery in 2018.