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Dubai Open news: Novak Djokovic def Lorenzo Musetti in first match since Australian Open saga


Novak Djokovic was utterly dominant in his first competitive match of 2022 – but accepted his anti-vaxx saga isn’t behind him just yet.

Novak Djokovic made a successful return to the tour for the first time since his deportation from Australia, kicking off his 2022 campaign with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Italian teenager Lorenzo Musetti in Dubai on Monday.

The Serbian world No.1 was greeted by loud cheers from a packed Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium as he commenced his quest for a sixth title in the Emirates in style.

“I couldn’t ask for a better reception. It’s been a while since I played the last match, I couldn’t pick a better place to kick-start the season,” said Djokovic.

“Best possible experience tonight, thanks very much for your support and welcoming me on court the way you did,” added Djokovic on court as ‘Nole, Nole’ chants rang throughout the arena.

“All in all it’s a straight-sets win. I have to be satisfied with my tennis, especially after not playing for almost three months.”

The 34-year-old’s hopes of winning a 10th Australian Open, and 21st grand slam, in Melbourne last month were shattered when he had his visa cancelled and was deported for not being vaccinated against Covid-19.

Djokovic can play in Dubai as a coronavirus vaccine is not a requirement to enter the United Arab Emirates.

But he expects entry to other competitions won’t be as straightforward, admitting his participation at next month’s Indian Wells is currently up in the air.

“As of today, no. I can’t go – can’t enter United States,” he said.

“As of today I’m not able to play. But let’s see what happens. I mean, maybe things change in the next few weeks.”

Djokovic’s meeting with the 19-year-old Musetti was his first competitive match since the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid last December.

It was a rematch of their Roland Garros fourth round from last spring, where Musetti led Djokovic by two-sets-to-love before retiring in the decider.

A break of serve in the fourth game of the contest saw Djokovic inch ahead and he had to stave off a trio of break points to consolidate his advantage and lead 4-1.

The top seed needed just 36 minutes to take the opening set, sending the buoyant Dubai crowd to its feet.

Another early break gave Djokovic control of the second set but he became increasingly frustrated when he faced four break points en route to a 4-2 hold, roaring in anger towards his team in the stands.

That only fired Djokovic up even more as he comfortably marched into the last 16 in 74 minutes.

The 20-time major champion now awaits the winner of the first-round duel between Karen Khachanov and Australian Alex de Minaur.

Earlier, Australia’s Chris O’Connell pushed British great Andy Murray into a three hour battle before succumbing 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 7-5.

Murray is now just one win shy of his goal of reaching 700 career match-wins and could check that item off his bucket list if he comes out victorious in his next clash in Dubai against either Italian No.4 seed Jannik Sinner or Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

The three-time Grand Slam winner, competing in Dubai for the first time since he won the title in 2017, says he does not agree with Djokovic’s stance against the vaccine but Murray believes the tour is better off when the world No.1 is able to compete.

“I think it would be a lot easier for him obviously if he was to get vaccinated,” Murray said on Monday.

“But I also didn’t like seeing him in the situation that he was in Australia as someone that I respect, have known since I was a child.

“There are consequences to the decisions he’s made just now. He obviously has to accept that. But I don’t think it’s great for tennis if our best player is not competing in the major events.”

NOVAK’S SURPRISE ‘POSITIVE’ LOCKER ROOM BOAST

Novak Djokovic says he’s been given a “positive” reception from players in the locker room and is “excited” to get back on court for his first match of the season at the Dubai ATP tournament on Monday.

The world number one missed last month’s Australian Open due to the cancellation of his visa and his deportation from Australia as a result of not being vaccinated.

He returns to the tour this week in the Emirates, where he will be competing for the first time since the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid last December.

Ahead of his opening round against Italian wildcard Lorenzo Musetti, Djokovic spoke to reporters on Sunday night about how it feels to be back on the tennis circuit, and whether there has been any negative reaction from his peers in the wake of his return.

“So far here most of the players that I’ve seen – I haven’t seen too many players – but most of the players that I’ve seen have been positive and welcoming. It’s nice to see obviously. I can’t say that was the case in Australia. It was a little bit strange. But here it’s well so far,” the 34-year-old Serb said.

Djokovic got back to training 10 days after he returned from Australia, and admits he needed some time to recover mentally from an emotional few weeks that saw him get detained by Australian Border Force in Melbourne and eventually have his visa cancelled twice before being sent back home.

The 20-time major champion said what happened in Australia made him “sad” and “disappointed” but he soon felt motivated to get back on the tennis court.

“I’ve been playing tennis for the last two and a half, three weeks. I’ve been enjoying it. I love the game, I love just hitting the tennis ball, so it wasn’t really difficult for me to pick up a racquet and go out on the practice court and just play,” said Djokovic, who is targeting a sixth Dubai title this week.

“Knowing I was coming to Dubai, I had something to work for, I had a goal. So now that I’m here I could say that I am as well-prepared as I possibly can be and I’m excited to, again, be on the tour.”

In an interview with the BBC, Djokovic said he was willing to forgo the chance to compete at any tournament, including the Grand Slams, if any of those events had a vaccine mandate.

He is aware he may not have many opportunities to play as an unvaccinated individual, which means planning his schedule in advance will become increasingly difficult moving forward.

“I just have to follow the rules. Whatever tournament that I’m able to play, I’ll be trying to get to that country and play the tournament,” he said.

“I really can’t choose right now. It’s really about where I can go and play. Wherever I have an opportunity, I’ll be using probably that opportunity and going to play because this is what I do, it’s what I love to do still.”

Djokovic, who was eclipsed by Rafael Nadal on the men’s all-time list of most Grand Slams won, thanks to the Spaniard’s Australian Open last month, might relinquish his number one ranking on February 28 to Daniil Medvedev, who is playing in Acapulco this week.

The Serb, who begins his record 361st week at the top of rankings on Monday, is unaware of all the scenarios that might lead to his dethronement and is instead focusing on winning all his matches in Dubai.

“He deserves to be number one,” Djokovic said of Russian world number two Medvedev.

“Eventually it’s going to happen. If it happens this week, I’ll be the first one to congratulate him.”



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