Novak Djokovic took his time but he finally appeared to take his bow ahead of his 12th appearance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The world No. 1 has been through a roller-coaster time after his ejection from Australia ahead of the Open in Melbourne and has not played competitively since a Davis Cup appearance for Serbia in December.
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But after watching him practise on Centre Court at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, it is clear there is only one thing on his mind — a sixth DDFTC crown to set the record straight and continue his pursuit of Roger Federer’s eight titles here in Garhoud.
“It’s great to be here,” he said after a belated arrival in front of the media in the Majlis at the tennis centre. “I’ve had some wonderful results in this tournament. It’s been a while since I played for the first time in Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Tennis Championship and I have many wonderful memories on and off the court.”
Djokovic is expecting a tough time, despite being the world No. 1 and he believes the ATP 500 event is one of the toughest on tour.
“I think there’s four or five top 10 players in the men’s side this week,” he said. “It’s always a very solid, very hard draw and field. Every match you get to play is really on a Grand Slam, 1000 ATP Masters level. It is a 500 category, but it feels that it’s stronger than that definitely with the field of players. I’m excited. I haven’t played a match since Davis Cup in Spain last December. Can’t wait to start an official match tomorrow night.”
Djokovic has five and Federer eight Dubai titles, but the Serb is focused only on what is in front of him one game at a time.
“It’s quite a long-shot, I would say,” Djokovic said when asked by Gulf News if he could catch the Swiss star. “He’s won it eight times. I won it I think five.
I don’t know how many more years I’m going to be playing on a high level and being one of the contenders to win the tournament.
“I still feel good. Obviously ranking-wise I’m still at the top of the game. Of course, first match is going to be very important to kind of start off the campaign in this year’s tournament in a positive way. I have a young, very talented, tricky opponent in Lorenzo Musetti. We played a tough five-setter in Roland Garros during the French Open.”
Djokovic is quickly adjusting to the settings here, which are a bit different, despite his familiarity with the surroundings.
“I think that this court is playing very quick, actually the quickest I ever experienced the surface here in Dubai,” he said. “It was always fast, but a lot of players that I talk to have been saying the same thing, it’s very, very fast. We’ll take one day at a time and see how far I can do.”
While Djokovic has held on to top spot for what seems like forever, Daniil Medvedev could take over this week if results go his way as he competes in the Mexican Open, but Djokovic accepts it is only a matter of time before he has to give up his ranking.
“I know that he’s very close,” he said. “It all depends on what I do here. I am not aware of all the different scenarios, but the only scenario that I have in my head is to win every match that I play here. He deserves to be No. 1. Eventually it’s going to happen. If it happens this week, I’ll be the first one to congratulate him.”
Not that he will be going out of his way to help the Russian as he goes for a sixth crown and aims to be accepting more adulations in Dubai on Saturday.