Dubai Duty Free Tennis: Djokovic continues his love affair with the emirates

Dubai has played a major role in his career, a place where he has done his winter training and uses the facilities during other times of the year as well

By Joy Chakravarty

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Serbia's Novak Djokovic during the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last year. — AFP
Serbia's Novak Djokovic during the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last year. — AFP

Published: Sat 25 Feb 2023, 9:56 PM

Last updated: Sat 25 Feb 2023, 11:51 PM

Keeping with the tradition of Dubai, pre-eminent players of contemporary tennis continue to grace and embrace the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Following the sensational show in the WTA 1000 part of the Championship by 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, fans will expect a similar run by Novak Djokovic when the ATP 500 event begins this week.

The world No1, who hasn’t played a tournament since his record-tying 22nd Grand Slam title win at the Australian Open in January, leads a packed field that features four of the world’s top 10.

Russian Andrey Rublev, the fifth-ranked player in the world and second seed here, is the defending champion. Other top-10 stars in the field are Russian No.8 Daniil Medvedev, a 16-time winner on ATP, and Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, the No9 who won four European hardcourt titles in 2022.

Djokovic, who was among the first sportsmen to receive a 10-year Golden Visa way back in February 2020, has long had a love affair with the emirates. Dubai has also played a major role in his career, a place where he has done his winter training and uses the facilities during other times of the year as well.

At the time of getting the Golden Visa, Djokovic had said: “I am grateful because I've been friends for years with His Highness (Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai). I want to thank him for allowing me to train at his facility for the years I’ve been coming to Dubai.”

No wonder Djokovic always makes it a point to play the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. And this year, there are many reasons why he would like to add to five Dallah trophies that already adorn his cabinet.

He’d like to make up for his surprise, straight-set quarterfinal loss to Czech southpaw Jiri Veseley last year, but more importantly, he’d want to keep his unbeaten record intact. In 2023, Djokovic hasn’t lost a match and won the titles in Adelaide, apart from the Australian Open.

Another good reason is that with Spain’s world No.2 Carlos Alcaraz breathing down his neck in the rankings — Alcaraz will have the same points as Djokovic on Monday if he wins the tournament in Rio this week — the Serbian superstar would like some separation as they head to back-to-back ATP 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami soon after Dubai.

The Big Four of men’s tennis for the first two decades this century — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, apart from Djokovic — have always tried to include the tournament in their schedule. No wonder all their names are on the trophy, with Federer the most successful player in Dubai with eight titles, followed by Djokovic (5). Nadal won here in 2006 and Murray in 2017.

Murray, who won four consecutive three-set matches to reach the final of Doha this week, is showing he is serious about his comeback. The Scotsman will be a tired man when he reaches Dubai tomorrow (Sunday) but will try to ride the love from the British fans and continue to go deep.

Murray’s opponent in the final in Doha, Medvedev looks in hot form and could be the man to watch out for. The tall Russian has already won a title this year, in Rotterdam.

Rublev had a superb 2022, when he collected four titles, including Dubai. He also beat No.1 Djokovic in the final at Belgrade.

“I feel good to be back in Dubai, it’s a great feeling, and I would love to go as far as possible,” said Rublev ahead of the championship.

Having lost to Medvedev twice in the previous two weeks, Canadian fourth seed Auger-Aliassime will be hoping he avoids the Russian as far as possible. The losses came in Doha semifinals, and in the Rotterdam quarterfinals before that.

One of the three wildcards handed out by the organisers has gone Tunisian veteran Malik Jaziri, who is set to retire after this week.

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