DUBAI // Novak Djokovic is irritated by the fact that he is yet to make a successful defence of any of his 16 titles. The articulate Serbian, who overcame Spain's David Ferrer 12 months ago to secure a first triumph in the Dubai Championships, is hungry for an elusive repeat at the Aviation Club this week. "It's about time I retained one of my titles," said Djokovic, the world No 2 who last night became the top-ranked player in the 32-man line-up following the withdrawal of Roger Federer.
Djokovic, who if the seedings prove accurate over the next six days will face Britain's Andy Murray in Saturday's final, accepts that his chances of more glory have increased considerably by Federer's surprise exit but pointed out: "Even without him it's going to be a tough tournament." As doubts remain about Rafael Nadal's ability to regain the No 1 ranking because of the Spaniard's recurring fitness problems, the likelihood is that Djokovic and Murray will eventually fight it out to succeed the Swiss. "I think I deserve my ranking," declared Djokovic, mindful that his long-standing friend Murray overtook him for a spell last year. "I had a fantastic end to the season," he added, referring to his autumn victories in Beijing, Basle and Paris. "That enabled me to get to No 2 and I am now hoping to go a step further. My lifetime goal has been to become the best in the world and I'm determined to achieve that."
Djokovic, 22, who opens his title defence tonight against Spain's Guillermo Garcia Lopez, accepts his mission is a tough one. "There is a quite a large group now of new players capable of winning majors," he said. "And winning slams leads automatically to improved rankings. I think I have several rivals for the honour and I reckon the main ones are [Andy] Murray, [Juan Martin] Del Potro, [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga and [Andy] Roddick."
Djokovic, like so many other players, always enjoys returning to the UAE, even though his first experience of residence at the "seven star" Burj Al Arab was quite embarrassing. "I went out to practise in my shorts and T-shirt and when I came back, hot and sweaty, everybody else was dressed for dinner in really fancy clothes," he recalled. "I won't be doing that again." firstname.lastname@example.org