x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Djokovic makes heavy weather of win

The exhausted Serb did not need reminding that he should have had his arms clasped round the Dubai Tennis Championships trophy long before he held it aloft.

Novak Djokovic crumbles to the ground after defeating Russia's Mikhail Youzhny.
Novak Djokovic crumbles to the ground after defeating Russia's Mikhail Youzhny.

DUBAI // An exhausted Novak Djokovic did not need reminding that he should have had his grateful arms clasped round the Dubai Tennis Championships trophy long before he held it aloft yesterday afternoon. A more ruthless Djokovic would have secured his 17th career title before a Saturday night storm suspended play with him a set and a break up and playing as well as he has done during what he admitted had been a below-par week.

In the end the Serbian took more than three hours court time and the best part of a full day to overcome the gallant Mikhail Youzhny in the rain-delayed final. The laboured nature of the 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 win was in keeping with a week which required Djokovic to dig deep to avoid joining the other seeds who fell by the wayside. "Obviously in this tournament I don't allow myself to win in straight sets except the first round," he said. "Even when I can finish the job in two sets, I still want to play a bit more. I was thinking about the people who bought tickets and want to stay a bit longer ."

The light-hearted approach was Djokovic's way of dealing with the fact that he lacked a killer instinct when he had his man on the ropes. "I know that are my holes in the game," he said. "Certain elements in my game weren't working for me throughout the week. I'm well aware of my serve and everything. "It's a very mental game. People don't realise how much tension you have to go through throughout the match, ups and downs, highs and lows. And it's all part of the game. It's not easy. But even when I'm playing badly I know I have the abilities to deal with it - call it reserve or secret weapons if you like. Today was another good example of how much I believe in myself."

"So I will try to look on the positive side of everything. I have won this tournament without being at my best so that has to be good for my future confidence. I have found myself down in four of my matches this week and still managed to find a way through them, so I'm really pleased about that." The world No 2 promised to return next year in search of a hat-trick of Aviation Club titles. He will, after all, be defending this crown at the same venue. Dubai Duty Free, the organisers, had originally declared an intention to move to Dubai Sports City next year but Colm McLoughlin, the company's managing director, said: "We will be staying here in 2011 and review the situation after that."

Few players have spent as much time at the cosy tennis venue than Youzhny, who also promised to return next year to try to capture an elusive title at the 10th time of asking. The Russian, a crowd favourite wherever he goes, maintained his customary smile in the wake of another heartbreaking defeat. He said: "I was beaten in two sets by Roger Federer [in 2007] and I've lost in three sets here, so maybe next time."

wjohnson@thenational.ae