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World No 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia addressing the media ahead of the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Sunday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Novak Djokovic’s battle with Andy Murray goes back a couple of decades and the Serbian world No 1 is excited to see his friend and foe to comeback to top-level tennis and says the British ace richly deserves the success he reaps now after all the trials and tribulations in his career.

Responding to a query from Gulf News, Djokovic, who will be the world record for the number of 378 weeks on Monday, said: “He [Murray] has got so much talent, incredible grit, incredible mentality of a champion, of a fighter.”

Five-time Dubai champion Djokovic could meet Murray in a mouth-watering quarterfinals, should they both win their first two rounds. The British ace has been in phenomenal form, winning from brink, after saving five match points against Jiri Lehecka in the Qatar Open. Murray could not, however, continue his amazing run in the final, losing to another Dubai contestant Daniil Medvedev in straight sets.

Artificial hip

“You have to note that he has an artificial hip and the way he moves and the amount of hours he has spent on the court since the beginning of the year, particularly in Australia, is just something you must admire and say ‘chapeau’,” Djokovic added.

Murray, who has three Grand Slam titles and the winner of the 2017 Dubai Tennis Championships, underwent his first hip surgery in 2018 and the next the following year. The British No 1 has been making steady progress up the ladder and returned to the Top 50 last year.

First signs of Murray’s resilience on the court came during the Australian Open, where he made the fourth round after two five-set victories over Matteo Berrettini and Thanasi Kokkinakis, defeating the Australian in a marathon five-hour 45-minute battle in the third round.

Novak Djokovic rallied from a set down to beat Andy Murray in the 2016 French Open final. Image Credit: Reuters file

Past duels

“I have huge respect for him. Andy and I go a long way back, since the time we were 11 or 12 years old. That’s the first time we met and kicked my [backside]. Ever since, we kind of followed each other on the journey to become professional players and not much separated us in terms of results. Maybe, I broke through to the top five earlier than he did, but we were very close always,” Djokovic reminisced of his past duels with Murray.

“What is happening now this year with his match points saved in literally every match he plays. He’s constantly looking to improve and to get back to the highest level, which it seems like he’s been doing. He’s just rising in the rankings, getting better and better. I’m very happy for him because he’s a great guy, respects the sport, works very, very hard. So very committed, he deserves his success.”

Big reputation

Djokovic will open his campaign against qualifier Tomas Machac on Tuesday. The 22-year-old Czech, who is ranked 119 places below the Serbian in the world rankings and with just nine match wins so far on the ATP Tour, is developing a quiet reputation for his speed, agility and power from the baseline. Machac qualified for this week’s main draw with wins over Marton Fucsovics and Matteo Arnaldi.

The confirmed main draw includes eight of the world’s top 20 players, including reigning champion Andrey Rublev, who will face Djokovic’s compatriot Filip Krajinovic, Olympic gold medallist Alexander Zverev, who will meet Jiri Lehecka, and Canadian prospect Felix Auger-Aliassime, who will take on American Maxime Cressy in the first round.

Daniil Medvedev, the world No 8 and the Qatar Open champion, and the Doha finalist Andy Murray are also in the field. The Russian will meet lucky-loser Matteo Arnaldi of Italy, while Murray faces fifth-seed Hubert Hurkacz. Meanwhile, Machac is joined by fellow qualifiers Pavel Kotov, Alexandar Lazarov, and Christopher O’Connell, while wildcards have been given to Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri, and Australian duo Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alexei Popyrin.