Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 31 March 2020

World No 1 Novak Djokovic makes short work of Malek Jaziri at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Serbian cruises past friend-cum-temporary-foe to seal a 6-1, 6-2 first-round victory

Making his first appearance since claiming yet another Australian Open title, Novak Djokovic made incredibly quick work of Malek Jaziri.

That’s no slight on the Tunisian wildcard, who charmed everyone at Saturday’s draw when he maintained an unwelcome personal trend of being pitted against a Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships top seed. Djokovic is not only the headline act this week, but the world No 1, too.

On Monday, he played as such. The Serb, whose eighth Australian Open brought about a 17th Grand Slam success, cruised to a 6-1, 6-2 victory on Centre Court. He needed exactly one hour to see off his friend-cum-temporary-foe.

Targeting a fifth Dubai crown, Djokovic will undoubtedly take some stopping.

“Yeah, it's a great way to start out the tournament,” he said following his first match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium in four years. “As I've said in the press conference prior to the tournament, I miss playing here. I really enjoy it. I enjoy night sessions.”

Ditto for the sizeable crowd that cheered him on.

“There's a lot of people for an opening day of the tournament,” Djokovic said. “It's a working day so I want to thank everyone for coming out. It was a great atmosphere.

“One-hour match – I've done everything as well as I imagined it to be for the first match. Of course, there's things that always can be improved, things that can be better. But I have to be satisfied with the performance.”

Some of that support even made its way into the conference. Having watched dad deliver in lightning fashion – Djokovic raced 5-0 up in the first set and then broke Jaziri at 2-2 in the second – Stefan Djokovic got a glimpse behind the scenes as well.

He followed his father into the media meet, accompanied by two pretty fortunate friends. It makes for a nice paternal perk, also.

“He's slowly starting to understand,” said Djokovic of the eldest of his two children. “Tara is still too little. She's only two. Stefan is now five, five and a half. He understands a little bit more why I'm absent from home.

“That's obviously a very difficult part for a father who’s a professional tennis player. I'm thrilled obviously when I'm able to have him in the stands on rare occasions."

Now familiar with life on tour, Stefan could be forgiven for being a bit biased.

He hasn't really stated who his favourite player is,” said Djokovic, smiling. “I don't know … I have a wild guess.”

No guesses for who’s favourite to win this week. Djokovic will take on Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round on Wednesday, but on Tuesday competes alongside Marin Cilic, for the first time, in doubles.

The dual bid shouldn’t distract him. He won’t take lightly his next singles opponent.

“I lost to him in straight sets in Indian Wells last year,” Djokovic said. “I'm aware of what he's capable of. He likes actually playing top players on a big stage. I certainly will not underestimate him.

“I will prepare myself. I'm feeling good on the court. Tonight was another testament to the way I feel: confidence, obviously striking the ball well. Hopefully that can continue in the next match.”

With eight-time champion and reigning title-holder Roger Federer having withdrawn before the tournament following knee surgery, Djokovic’s path to the finish line would appear clear.

Not that he sees it that way. “Not in particular,” he said. “Of course, Roger is such an important person and player and brand for our sport. Of course you don't want to see him missing one tournament, two tournaments.

"Now he's going to be out until the grass season as I hear. That's a blow for our sport and for this tournament in particular where he's defending champion; he has won many times.

“But it doesn't change much in terms of my approach. If he would have been here in the draw, we would possibly meet only in the final. You got to win four matches. You got to build your game. You got to win against all these guys that are playing on a high level.

“There's some top players always from top 10, top 15; four, five players are playing each year. It makes this tournament a great challenge for me or for anybody else.”

Updated: February 24, 2020 10:52 PM

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