It seems like someone is making up for lost time.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic kept up his relentless return to action at the Dubai Duty Free Championships on Wednesday night. The Serbian consigned Karen Khachanov to the departure list from Garhoud as he once again turned on the style — just as he did in the opening round to see off Italian Lorenzo Musetti.
Djokovic needed only 98 minutes to defeat his Russian opponent 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) on Wednesday, proving that he is still at the top of the game despite three months out of action.
Djokovic last played on December in the Davis Cup to end his 2021 season, and he had not been in competitive action again until Monday.
His campaign this year was knocked off course when he was deported from Australia following a drawn out dispute over his medical exemption from the country’s Covid vaccination rules. Djokovic lost the argument and his chance to win a record 21st Grand Slam title, instead kicking his heels at home while Rafael Nadal edged ahead in the all-time race with 21 to the Serb’s 20.
But now he is back doing what he does best, and poor old Khachanov had to bear the brunt of Djokovic’s frustrations in Dubai.
While Djokovic had the backing of the majority of the crowd, Khachanov also had his fair share of followers, who erupted when the Russian broke back to level at 4-4 in the second set.
However, that minor setback simply spurred Djokovic on and he overwhelmed world No. 28 Khachanov in the tiebreak to advance to the quarter-finals.
“I am feeling excited, motivated but also there are moments of stress — especially when you are facing break points,” the five time champion said on his 12 appearance here.
Djokovic added he was glad to get a work out from Khachanov as it allowed him to step back and work a bit on his game after such a long time out.
“Of course, you always prefer to win in straight sets rather than get too stressed,” he told Gulf News after his match. “But I was actually glad when he broke back in the second set. I liked the fact that I dropped my serve and allowed him to come back into the match.
“He started playing much better in the second set and was hitting his spots. I kind of backed up a bit and we were going toe-to-toe. In the 12th game when I was serving to take it to the tiebreak, I found my rhythm and that was great to work out. I continued on in the tiebreak and I hit two great returns at 5-2 up to finish off the match.
“It was the best possible tiebreak to play against a top-quality opponent who really should be higher up the rankings. They do not reflect how well he is doing right now. It was a fantastic test and a fantastic atmosphere. I really enjoyed it.”
Djokovic will next face Jiri Vesely, who defeated last week’s Qatar Masters champion Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-2.