Novak Djokovic
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic reacts during the semifinals against Daniil Medvedev in the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on March 3, 2023. Top seed and five-time winner Djokovic lost the match in straight sets. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: After the best possible start to the year, Novak Djokovic faces several possibilities, probabilities and some uncertainties over the next few weeks.

The World No. 1 was on a roll, winning 15 matches in a row before losing to Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday. The winning run included the Australian Open triumph when he tied Rafael Nadal’s record of 22 Grand Slam titles.

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“The year is long. I started the year in the best possible way, winning many matches in a row and winning the Australian Open. That’s the one I looked for the most; that was my priority. Of course, any other tournament win is a bonus,” said the Serbian.

“I enjoyed playing over the years in Dubai. I’ll keep coming back because it’s definitely a place where I enjoy spending time, training, [and] playing in front of the great crowd that comes in big numbers. Yeah, looking forward to the next challenge,” said the five-time Dubai champion.

But what next seems to be a question that is occupying Djokovic’s mind as he still doesn’t have a clear picture about his participation in the tournaments in the United States due to his vaccination status.

Djokovic’s new record

“I don’t know. I’m still waiting for the news from America. If there’s no America, I guess I’ll play clay. Monte Carlo is probably the next tournament. If that’s the case, then I’ll take some time off and prepare for clay, the most demanding surface. It takes more time than any other surface to prepare for,” said Djokovic, who surpassed Steffi Graf’s record to hold the No. 1 ranking for 378 weeks — the longest in tennis history.

Earlier this week, the 35-year-old said his priorities have changed, and he would focus more on winning the Grand Slams, and the younger players like Carlos Alcaraz and Stefanos Tsitsipas could take the World No. 1 crown.

“I am not afraid of the next generation,” he said, accepting that lesser tournaments would allow others to take the world No 1 title from him. “Eventually, they’ll take the No 1, then I’ll bring it back again, then they’ll take it again, then we go in circles,” the 35-year-old said.

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Djokovic will have a shot at overhauling Nadal’s record at Roland Garros, the Spaniard’s favourite hunting ground. “If it’s not a possibility, I wouldn’t be playing tennis,” Djokovic said and smiled.

The World No. 1 won the Australian Open despite a hamstring injury, and Dubai was his first big test after recovery. He survived a scare against qualifier and World No .130 Tomas Machac, but the victory gave Djokovic the confidence that he is getting back to his best.

“Lots of positives from Dubai. The way I felt throughout the week makes me feel satisfied with the current state of my body, not knowing how I’m going to react with the comeback after the injury. I lost to a better opponent, and I know that I didn’t play well in some decisive moments, but it was also due to his quality of tennis,” Djokovic said, adding that in the past, the losses would hurt him more, but nowadays it takes just one night to move on.

I lost to a better player: Djokovic

Djokovic and Medvedev have met 14 times with the Serbian holding a 9-5 record. The Russian World No. 7 defeated Djokovic in the 2021 US Open final, denying him a calendar Grand Slam.

“He extracts and provokes unforced errors from everybody because that’s his game, and he does it extremely well. He’s very patient and very athletic. I just made an unforced error and kind of handed the win. At the same time, he deserved to win it. He was a better player in both sets. You learn from your mistakes and the defeats, and, hopefully, next time, I’ll be better,” said the Australian Open champion.

The chants of ‘Nole’, ‘Nole’, filled the Dubai Tennis Stadium on Friday as his fans cheered him. Djokovic will be back next year to bask in their adulation.