Malek Jaziri Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Malek Jaziri has accepted the challenge of facing world No.1 and four-time champion Novak Djokovic in their opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open that gets under way on Monday.

Now the second-best men’s tennis player of the Arab world after Egypt’s Mohammad Safwat, Jaziri has enjoyed some of his most successful moments of the Tour at the Dubai tournament. In his most recent appearance here in 2018, the 36-year-old Tunisian swept his way through to the final four after upsetting world No.4 and top seed Grigor Dimitrov in the first round, Robin Haase in the second and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-final before going down to eventual champion Roberto Bautista Agut.

Even though he has had some of his best results here, the main draw has rarely been kind to Jaziri. In 2013, he had opened against world number 2 Roger Federer, in 2016 he met Djokovic in Round Two and in 2017 he faced world number 1 Andy Murray in the opening round. In 2018, the Tunisian caved in 1-6, 2-6 against Djokovic, but such was not the case in his match against Federer as he had stretched the Swiss ace into three sets.

“I have this homely feeling in Dubai and that can push me along to reach my best against Novak,” Jaziri told media after the men’s draw, on Saturday.

“He is probably the toughest opponents I have played in Dubai so far. Playing against him again here is good and not so good. It is always not easy when you are up against the world number or two, but then it is better to play such players in the first round than in the quarter-final. We will see what happens as I really don’t have anything to lose,” he added.

“I have come to play against a player who is at his very best at the moment after winning his eighth Australian Open. He has all the confidence, but I will give my best and enjoy this match. This will be an opportune moment for me to get back to a level that I would like to be at. It’s a great opportunity for me to see where I have to work.”

Jaziri had a horrible 2019 plagued with injuries that put a spanner in his comeback attempts. However by the end of the year, he got better and after a pre-season spent in Dubai, the Tunisian hit the ATP Challengers’ trail playing at the Maharashtra Open in Pune and the Bengaluru Challenger. “Every week I am getting better and it is these kind of matches against Novak that are good for me. they will give me a lot of motivation to push myself and see where I am today,” Jaziri said.

“The goals now are to stay healthy and enjoy the hard work at the same time. I have done this for many years now, and I know the way how to get back to my best again,” he added.