Novak Djokovic is happy to be back for Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

The Serbian, who will begin his Dubai campaign on Tuesday, says he is still hungry for more Grand Slam titles


Rituraj Borkakoty

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Novak Djokovic during a press conference in Dubai on Sunday. — KT Photo by Neeraj Murali
Novak Djokovic during a press conference in Dubai on Sunday. — KT Photo by Neeraj Murali

Published: Sun 26 Feb 2023, 11:21 PM

Last updated: Sun 26 Feb 2023, 11:34 PM

Novak Djokovic moved along comfortably following his practice session on a quiet and empty Dubai Centre Court on Sunday evening, talking to his team and posing for a few pictures with an impressionable teenager.

It’s been almost a month since he made a mockery of the three-centimetre tear in his hamstring Down Under.

In what was one of the greatest acts of defiance ever seen in sports, Djokovic tore apart younger rivals to capture a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam at the Australian Open, just 12 months after he was thrown out of Australia over his vaccination status.

His vaccination status remains same, and the Serb is still waiting for a confirmation on whether the American authorities would offer him an exemption to enter their country for next month’s two Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami.

But what has clearly changed now is his injury status.

On the eve of the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Tennis Championship, which will get underway on Monday, the 35-year-old Djokovic confirmed that he is getting closer to his hundred percent physically.

“I haven't felt any pain whatsoever out on the court for a week now. I'm getting closer to the hundred percent. Still not there in terms of the game itself. But the important thing is there is no pain,” Djokovic said during a press conference at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Sunday.

“After every injury, it takes a little bit of time for adjustments to be done on the court. It takes time for you to find again that groove of moving on the court effortlessly and not thinking about if something's going to happen or not. I don't have those thoughts.

“I just have to play more. I guess once you start playing matches, you'll see how you feel going hundred percent.”

Happy to be back

Outside of the Grand Slams, the Dubai event remains close to Djokovic’s heart, having won five of his 93 overall titles on the Centre Court here.

“It’s great to be back in Dubai. I have always loved coming here. It’s an amazing city,” he said.

“The tournament itself has been voted as the best tournament in the ATP 500 tournament category for so many years in a row. The tournament has attracted so many top players over the years.

“I have had success in the past, it’s difficult to say which of my five titles is the favourite. I guess the first one (in 2009) is always the special one.

“So looking forward to this tournament again. Just hoping that I would be able to restart the season after Australia and the injury in the best possible way.”

Fresh challenge

Despite rewriting the record books year after year, Djokovic, who begins his Dubai campaign against Czech qualifier Tomas Machac on Tuesday, still takes every tournament as a new challenge.

“I think on the court, my motivation is the same. I always want to be better than I was yesterday. So on a daily basis, or on a short term basis, I always try to improve every aspect of the game. I always believe that there is something to work on,” he said.

“So keeping that kind of a mindset also drives me and drives my team members, to really take every tournament, as a new challenge.

“I think that has helped me reach where I am now. It’s difficult to play at a high level at this age, professionally, but I have goals. I have been fortunate to achieve pretty much everything.”

Djokovic, who has arrived on these shores on the back of a 12-match unbeaten run this season, also achieved something remarkable recently, equalling German icon Steffi Graf’s record for most weeks spent at the top of world rankings.

“Well, I could not have imagined it at that point (when I was a child), to be honest. I was dreaming as a kid to be Wimbledon champion, to be No. 1 in the world. I achieved those dreams in 2011. After that, of course, I wanted more. I still want more achievements,” he said with a smile.

“Of course, I'm driven by the goals. I'm as dedicated to the sport as anybody else. I obviously know that it's not handed to me, that I have to earn it.

“Of course, it's surreal in a way to be that many weeks world No. 1, to match Steffi Graf, that is one of the all-time greats of our sport, both men and women.

“So just being amongst these legendary names is flattering. I'm very proud of it.”

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