Dubai: Novak Djokovic is no stranger to defending titles, but his defence of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships crown this year will have a special edge to it.
The Serbian will not only be bidding to equal Roger Federer’s record title tally of five when play in the ATP World Tour 500 Series Event begins on February 24, he will also be trying to accomplish a career-first and win a title for the fifth time.
The pressure will be on as he faces a spectacular field that includes not only arch-rival Federer but 2013 semi-finalist Juan Martin Del Potro, recent Australian Open semi-finalist Tomas Berdych and the entertaining Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
“The pressure is always there as a top player. I do feel there’s always high expectations,” said Djokovic, who won the title in 2009-11 as well as 2013. “But it’s all part of our sport. It’s what we need to deal with. It’s what we need to accept and, you know, try to use it in a positive way.
“By saying that, I mean that pressure is a privilege in a way, because it means you’re doing something that is very valuable, that is, of course, very important. In my life I’ve always dreamed of being on this stage, competing at the highest level. So I try to look at the pressure on the brighter side, right? I really enjoy every moment spent on the court.
“Tennis is such a mental game in the end of the day. It’s very dynamic. Everything happens fast. In one or two points you can lose a break and the match can turn around. That’s why it’s important to really stay within yourself and, you know, focus on what you can do.”
“Novak Djokovic is not only one of the greatest players of all time, but also one of the most humble,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman of tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free. “It is rare to see such a champion engage so readily not only with his fans, but his fellow players and even the ball-kids whom he sometimes invites to dance with him on the court after his match.
“It will be very interesting indeed to see how he deals with trying to achieve not just one, but two career milestones against a field of the very highest quality. We wish him well.”
The 26-year old has always dealt with the pressure he faces with dignity, even when he suffers the most disappointing of defeats.
One recent example occurred in Melbourne when he surrendered his Australian Open title to eventual new champion Stanislas Wawrinka, losing their quarter-final 9-7 in the fifth set at the end of a fiercely contested and heart-breaking battle. Djokovic then took time to tweet his congratulations to his conqueror.
There are no airs and graces, no nose in the air with Djokovic. “For me it’s important to always know where I come from, be grateful for the life that I have, of course cherish and nurture every moment spent on the court,” he said. “Since I was four or five years old I played this sport, always dreamed of playing on this stage, so I don’t take any situation for granted.”