How Dubai tennis scripted Novak Djokovic's turnaround after the Australian Covid saga

The Serbian had kick started his season at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last year


James Jose

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Mon 30 Jan 2023, 8:33 AM

Last updated: Mon 30 Jan 2023, 9:31 AM

Better late than never. A year on after he was sent back from Down Under after a lengthy drama, over Covid-19 vaccine, that would have given any soap opera a run for the money, Novak Djokovic was at peace after winning a 10th Australian Open at the magnificent Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on Sunday.

The Serb, who formed the Big Three of the now retired Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, also went on to equal Nadal’s 22 Grand Slam crowns.

It was a remarkable comeback by Djokovic, who had won the first Grand Slam at Melbourne Park back in 2008. And the victory against Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas was all the sweeter as it vaulted the 35-year-old to the top of the men’s singles ranking at No.1, a position that he had held for a record 374 weeks previously.

And as Djokovic plots a record 23rd Grand Slam crown that will make him go clear of gritty Nadal on the latter’s favourite surface — clay — at this year’s French Open, it is important to look back at the year gone by where Djokovic fought off the demons, both mentally and physically, to scale the pinnacle of his beloved sport.

And it is safe to say that the seeds of Djokovic’s stellar comeback were sown in Dubai.

Djokovic had been through a lot during that ugly saga prior to last year’s Australian Open. And after the ordeal had come to an end not in the Serb’s favour, Djokovic decided to make his first appearance of the season in Dubai. And the emirate welcomed him with open arms.

Crowds packed in at the Aviation Club Tennis Centre as Djokovic competed in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, one of his favourite events on the calendar.

And the pristine hardcourt in Dubai was where Djokovic’s season really took off.

Although a tad rusty, Djokovic beat Italian wildcard Lorenzo in the first round and Russian Karen Khachanov in the second round before going down to Jiri Vesely in a tight quarterfinal. The loss may have been hard to take but they were important lessons along the way as his season took shape.

Djokovic went on to win the Italian Open in May before facing a loss to Nadal at the French Open. But he soon gathered it together and beat Australian Nick Kyrgios in an epic final to win a seventh Wimbledon crown.

After an emotional farewell to Federer at the Laver Cup in London in September, Djokovic went on to triumph at the Tel Aviv Open and the Astana Open. He then closed the year out by clinching the ATP Finals in Turin by beating Casper Ruud.

Now, after a 22nd Grand Slam in the bag, Djokovic is all set to enthral fans in Dubai once again after he confirmed that he will compete in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships which will be held from February 19 to March 4.

Djokovic is a five-time winner of the prestigious tournament, with a hat-trick of wins from 2009 to 2011 and then 2013 and 2020. He had also finished runner-up to Federer in 2015.

Djokovic is also a frequent visitor to Dubai, having also visited Expo 2020.


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