A delayed return to the United Arab Emirates for Novak Djokovic. The Serb is back in Dubai on Monday, February 21, with the ambition to keep his place as world number 1, a month after his expulsion from Australia where he could not defend his chances at the first Grand Slam of the year, not being vaccinated against Covid-19.
His rival Rafael Nadal will try to confirm his return to the fore in Acapulco after offering himself at the end of January in Melbourne a 21and Grand Slam title, men’s record. The Spaniard had thus exceeded by one unit in the list of “Major” the Swiss Roger Federer, still recovering, and therefore Djokovic, whose canceled participation in the Australian Open had hit the headlines.
To justify his arrival in Australia without having been vaccinated, the 34-year-old Serb had requested, on the grounds of having contracted Covid-19 a few weeks earlier, an exemption which had never been granted to him. And his visa had been definitively canceled after fifteen days of an unprecedented controversy.
“Ready to pay the price”
Since then, Djokovic has rested in Serbia, with his family, and this week he came out of his silence, for the BBC and then Serbian television. He is not “antivax”he made it clear, but wishes to continue to “control what you inject” in his body.
He also said “ready to pay the price” of his convictions even if it should cost him his participation in the three other major tournaments this season, namely Roland-Garros (May 22-June 5), Wimbledon (June 27-July 10), the US Open (August 29-11 September), and de facto the race for the record.
French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu told RTL on Sunday:
“We all hope that the health crisis will evolve in a positive direction, but if that does not change, we will need a vaccination pass and therefore Novak Djokovic will not be with us. [à Roland-Garros]. »
In Dubai, the world number 1 can participate in the tournament because a coronavirus vaccine is not mandatory to enter the Emirates, where 895 new cases were announced on Thursday.
“Knowing that I was coming to Dubai, I had something to prepare, I had a goal. So now that I’m here I can say I’m as prepared as I can be and I’m excited to play on the circuit again.”said “Djoko”, in search of a sixth title in Dubai, during a press conference on Sunday.
Vaccination required to enter the United States
After Dubai, he is on the entry list for the Indian Wells Masters 1000 (March 7-20), in the Californian desert. But he does not have the right to enter American territory without being vaccinated.
The world number 1 explained:
“I can’t really choose right now. It’s really about where I can go and play. Wherever an opportunity arises, I’ll probably use it and go play because that’s always what I love to do. »
Monday, Djokovic will find the young Lorenzo Musetti (19 years old, 57and world) who had given him a hard time in June in his quest for a second trophy at Roland-Garros.
During the round of 16 in Paris, the Serbian champion had lost the first two sets before reversing the trend then Musetti had finally given up in the fifth set (6-7 (7/9), 6-7 (2/7) , 6-1, 6-0, 4-0).
For Djokovic, the challenge will also be to keep the chair of king of the ATP that the world number 2, the Russian Daniil Medvedev, engaged in the Acapulco tournament, can delight him at the end of the week. The finalist of the last Australian Open can climb to the top if he wins the title in Mexico regardless of the result of “Djoko” in the Emirates. “If it happens this week, I will be the first to congratulate him”estimated Djokovic about the Russian.
But the competition promises to be tough in Acapulco with, in addition to Nadal – initially opposed to the American Reilly Opelka – the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas and the German Alexander Zverev.
For his part, Djokovic hopes to quickly find good feelings, he who has not played in competition since December 3 and a defeat in Madrid with Serbia against Croatia in the semi-finals of the Davis Cup.