He will therefore have had to wait until February 21 to perform again in the spotlight of the whole world. Since his defeat in doubles in the Davis Cup semi-final between Serbia and Croatia at the beginning of last December, Novak Djokovic had not hit a tennis ball in competition. An absence of almost three consecutive months, in particular his expulsion from Australia where he had hoped for a time to play the first Grand Slam tournament thanks to a medical exemption from vaccination. After an extraordinary imbroglio, days of detention and two hearings, he had therefore had to give up the defense of his title and return to the plane.
Since then, Rafael Nadal has gone for a record 21st Major in Melbourne, in the absence of the Serb. What frustrate the world number 1 who was sportingly the big favorite for victory in the antipodes where he has not lost (at least on the court) since a round of 16 in 2018 against Hyeon Chung. But Djokovic has this particularity that he seems to thrive in adversity, and likes nothing better than to feed on it to fuel his motivation. Authorized to play Dubai for several weeks despite his unvaccinated status, he will face Lorenzo Musetti there this Monday in “night session”, reassembled like a cuckoo clock.
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Defending his place as number, a secondary objective: “Medvedev deserves to be”
“I have one more reason to play better than ever“, he declared on Serbian television a few days ago. The fire within is therefore still burning, as he confirmed in a pre-tournament press conference on Sunday, detailing his state of mind in more detail.”I went through a torrent of emotions when I came back from Australia obviously, so I needed some time to reflect and mentally rest. And then I was looking forward to playing tennis again. Knowing that I was going to Dubai, I had a goal to work towards. I’m as prepared as I can be and I’m excited to be on the circuit again.”
Because beyond the simple pleasure of returning to competition, the desire to win a tennis match again, Djokovic is also in the running in Dubai to try to defend his place as world number 1. Titled two years ago at the Emirates, he put 500 points into play, while Daniil Medvedev is only 440 points behind him in the standings. If he manages to go all the way this week, he will not be sure of keeping the throne because if his Russian runner-up wins at the same time in Acapulco, an ATP 500 too, he will burn his politeness.
“Djokovic’s position remains logical, his situation could be less catastrophic”
Nevertheless, the very tough table of the Mexican tournament (where Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rafael Nadal are notably also involved) could complicate Medvedev’s task, so the game is worth the candle. Djokovic would not be against keeping the reins of the circuit for a few more weeks, but losing them at the expense of a player he also likes would not traumatize him. “He deserves to be number 1 in the world, and it will happen eventually. If it happens this week, I’ll be the first to congratulate him“, he confided again.
Deprived of an American tour, he will quickly find technical unemployment
It must be said that the Serb has long since appropriated the record for time spent in first place in the world (he is entering his 361st week against 310 for Roger Federer) and that the issue is no longer so fundamental for him. And he knows above all that once the parenthesis of this week in Dubai is closed, he will have to take his troubles again patiently. Although present on the entry list in Indian Wells and Miami, he will probably not be authorized to travel to the United States without being vaccinated. Director of the Florida Masters 1000, James Blake himself confirmed this a few days ago.
Djokovic should therefore not play in March. After Dubai, we could find him in almost two months on the clay courts of… Belgrade (April 18-24) in front of his home crowd. Unless by then the rules are softened in Europe, as it is likely to happen, and that it is for example authorized to align with the Masters 1000 of Monte-Carlo (April 10-17) . Still, the Serb should still be out of work for some time.
Novak Djokovic facing the press ahead of his return to competition in Dubai in 2022
Credit: Getty Images
Well received in the Emirates, he intends to enjoy a nice sporting break
More than a real return, this week in Dubai is therefore a breath of fresh air for Djokovic who should not suffer from the reception of the public as would probably have been the case in Australia. That of his peers was also warmer than in Melbourne. “So far most of the players I’ve seen – I haven’t seen many – but most of the ones I’ve seen have been positive and welcoming. It’s obviously nice. I can’t say that was the case in Australia. It was a bit strange. But here everything is fine“, he noted.
Tennis, just tennis, is what will matter for Djokovic. His start against the Italian Lorenzo Musetti, who had caused him some serious problems in the round of 16 at Roland-Garros last year before giving up his arms physically (6-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6 -0, 4-0 ab.), looks good on paper. A quarter-final against a Bautista Agut in form after his title in Doha could notably follow. With the idea of showing that he has lost none of the mastery of his art, for lack of being able to demonstrate it every week.
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