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Exclusive: Great to have Djokovic back in Dubai tennis, says Tournament Director Salah Tahlak

Novak Djokovic poses with the trophy after winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2020. (AFP file)
Novak Djokovic poses with the trophy after winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in 2020. (AFP file)

The world number one will return to competitive tennis in the men's week of this month's Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (February 14-26)



by

Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Sat 12 Feb 2022, 4:14 PM

Last updated: Sat 12 Feb 2022, 4:32 PM

Salah Tahlak, Tournament Director of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, is delighted to see the return of tennis superstar Novak Djokovic to one of his happy hunting grounds.

The world number one will return to competitive tennis in the men’s week of this month’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (February 14-26) – less than a month after the Serbian superstar was deported from Australia over his coronavirus vaccination status.

While Djokovic is still licking his wounds after losing a legal battle in Australia to stay in Melbourne for the year’s first Grand Slam, he will be back in Dubai for another tilt at the title.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion is also the second most successful men’s singles player in Dubai.

The 34-year-old has won the coveted trophy five times and his trophy-haul is second only to Roger Federer’s seven in Dubai.

While expressing his gratitude to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Tahlak has hailed Djokovic’s return to Dubai as a ‘positive’ step.

“I think we have to always be positive. Dubai is a positive city. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed is always positive,” Tahlak told Khaleej Times after the draw ceremony for the women’s week of the tournament.

“He (Sheikh Mohammed) said whatever happened in the history, leave it behind you. Let’s not go for it, if we stand still, that’s not going to help. It’s always better to think ahead and it’s always better to think about the future and always be positive.

“I think it’s great to have him (Djokovic) back because he is the number one player in the world. He has been our former champion and for this city and this tournament, it’s absolutely great to have him back.”

While the women’s event will start on February 14, the men’s week of the award-winning tournament will be held between February 21 and February 26.

Simona Halep (second left) of Romania and Elina Svitolina (third left) of Ukraine at the draw for the women's event of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (Supplied photo)
Simona Halep (second left) of Romania and Elina Svitolina (third left) of Ukraine at the draw for the women's event of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. (Supplied photo)

100 per cent capacity

This month’s tournament will also see the return of fans at 100 per cent capacity, Tahlak confirmed on Saturday.

“It’s a great feeling (to be hosting the tournament again). We were so happy two days ago when we got an email from the Dubai Sports Council that we are back to 100 per cent, instead of 80,” he said.

“Although the tickets are sold out, but we have a few tickets that we kept, just in case. So now it’s amazing.”

Nine of the world’s top 10 women’s singles players, including world number two Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and two-time Grand Slam winner and defending champion, Garbine Muguruza of Spain, will be vying for the title in Dubai.

“Every single match (in the women’s tournament) will be like the final match,” Tahlak said.

“It’s a great draw. We have nine of the top 10 and 18 of top 20. This is the first time ever we have four former champions and Grand Slam champions (in the draw).

Top seed Sabalenka, chasing a unique Desert treble after her title wins in Doha and Abu Dhabi, will kick off her campaign against a qualifier.

Fourth seed Muguruza will launch her title defence against Australian Open runners-up Danielle Collins of the US.


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