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Djokovic returns: 6 things to watch out for at Dubai Men’s Duty Free Tennis Championships

DUBAI: The 30th edition of the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Tennis Championships kicks off on Monday with all eyes firmly on top seed Novak Djokovic.

Here are some of the main storylines to watch this week.

Djokovic ready for the start of the season

World number one Novak Djokovic will start his 2022 season in Dubai after missing action Down Under due to his visa being canceled and possible deportation from Australia last month.

The Serb told the BBC in an interview earlier this week that he had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 and was ready to give up participating in future tournaments if there was a warrant. vaccination during such events.

However, he won’t face such problems in Dubai, as the UAE is open to unvaccinated visitors.

Djokovic will compete for the first time since the Davis Cup final last December, and he begins his quest for a sixth title in Dubai against Italian joker Lorenzo Musetti.

Should he get past the 57th-ranked teenager, Djokovic would face the winner of the clash between Karen Khachanov and Alex de Minaur ahead of a potential quarter-final against 2018 champion and No.8 seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov are possible semi-final opponents for Djokovic, with defending champion Aslan Karatsev, Andrey Rublev, Jannik Sinner and former Wimbledon winner Andy Murray all landing on the opposite side of the draw.

Ranking #1 in game

Apart from following a tricky path in his first tournament of the season, Djokovic also has to think about his No.1 ranking.

Russian Daniil Medvedev will dethrone Djokovic at the top of the standings on February 28 if he wins the title in Acapulco at the Mexican Open next week.

Djokovic begins his record 361st week as world No.

Even if Medvedev doesn’t win the title in Mexico, there are other scenarios where the Russian can replace Djokovic at the top.

All of this adds an extra layer of excitement to the Dubai tournament and could possibly put additional pressure on Djokovic in his first event.

Wildcards forced to change training plans

Musetti, Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri and former world No. 1 Murray are three wild card winners in Dubai this year.

During the draw ceremony, Musetti and Jaziri burst out laughing when they found out that the players they were to train with on Saturday afternoon had ended up being their first-round opponents.

“He’s supposed to train with Novak and I’m supposed to train with (Filip) Krajinovic. So maybe we’ll train together now,” joked Jaziri, who is a former semi-finalist in Dubai.

Musetti will face Djokovic in a rematch of their 2021 Roland Garros fourth round, which saw the Italian teenager lead the world No. 1 by two sets to love before retiring late in the fifth set.

“I’m still not lucky, but I think it will be a great experience to play on center court with a full crowd. I’m having a lot of fun and I’m going to try to get my revenge on Roland Garros last year,” Musetti said.

“Of course I was playing my best tennis, it was completely on another surface but of course I learned a lot from that match. I learned that I can be at that level. Hopefully I will be at that level again. Monday or Tuesday night, whenever I play, on center court, I’m going to have fun and try to eliminate the first seed.

Mouth-watering openers

Just as was the case during WTA Week in Dubai, the men’s tournament is stacked and features four of the world’s top 10 and eight of the world’s top 16.

Some of the first round clashes to watch – besides Djokovic’s showdown with Musetti – include former top 10 player Khachanov taking on world No. 32 De Minaur, Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics taking on No. 6 seed Denis Shapovalov, Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina face off against No. 4 seed Jannik Sinner, third seed Felix Auger-Aliassime takes on Nikoloz Basilashvili and No. 5 seed Hubert Hurkacz opens against tricky Kazakh Alexander Bublik.

Difficult task for latecomers

A host of players entered the tournaments this week and will have little time to adjust to the new conditions in Dubai.

Auger-Aliassime and No. 2 seed Andrey Rublev are still in Marseille, where they reached the Open 13 semi-finals, and will need to acclimate to playing outside in the Dubai heat after having competed indoors in recent days in France.

In Doha, Bautista Agut and Basilashvili contest the Qatar Open final on Saturday, while Khachanov exited the tournament on Friday in the semi-finals.

The Russian, who resides in Dubai, was previously spotted in the Emirates on Saturday, soaking up the sun by the pool with his wife and son.

Another opportunity for Murray

After reaching the final of his second tournament of the season in Sydney last month, Murray hasn’t been able to win back-to-back matches at any of his last three events.

The 34-year-old Scot has fond memories in Dubai, where he won the title in 2017, nine years after upsetting Roger Federer on his tournament debut.

Murray begins his campaign against a qualifier, with Sinner or Davidovich Fokina ahead as possible second-round opponents.

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