DUBAI: Novak Djokovic‘s was an equanimous presence at the Majlis, sitting room in Arabic, and media interaction facility otherwise, located on the grounds of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, an ATP 500 Series event.
There was over one reason for the mood to have been celebratory for the Serbian superstar, who in January won his 22nd Grand Slam title, equalling Rafael Nadal at the top of the men’s game. He winged his way into the Emirates on the back of two titles that has given him a perfect 12-0 record for 2023. On Monday, he entered his 378th week as the world No. 1, surpassing German Steffi Graf’s record number of weeks atop the rankings.
The 35-year-old Serb reminded the media that his boyhood dreams of world No. 1 and winning Wimbledon were achieved in 2011. “After that I wanted more. I still want more achievements,” he said of his drive over a decade after.
“I’m driven by goals. I’m as dedicated to the sport as anybody. It hasn’t been handed to me. I have had to earn it. It’s surreal in a way to be 378 weeks as world No. 1, to match Steffi Graf. Just being amongst these legendary names is flattering.”
Still there are things he’s willing to pass at this stage of his much-decorated career. Djokovic may be aware that he is200 points ahead of Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the rankings, but he’s not looking over his shoulder.
“I would like to be No. 1,” he said. “But at the same time, I have other priorities, trying to be healthy, building form and trying to peak at Grand Slams. The ATP 1000 events where I’m going to play. Those are the tournaments that in a way count the most. Those are the goals.”
“At the same time, wherever I play, I don’t want to take away the importance of the tournament. Every trophy I get to win values three-four times as much as some trophies that I won 10 years ago, because I know that it’s different. I don’t know how much time I have left, or how many more years I’m going to play,” said the Serbian.
The world No. 1 is as yet unsure if he’ll be allowed into the United States, which is yet to relax vaccine protocols for travellers, leaving him stranded in the corridor of uncertainty weeks before two ATP Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami.
A LATE ENTRANT
But first things first, Djokovic is looking at the DDFT this week, where he opens against qualifier Tomas Machac on Tuesday, to maintain his season’s flawless record. The Serbian, who said he was approaching full fitness after suffering a hamstring injury in Australia, decided about a week ago, to play Dubai.
“Only five-six days ago we knew that it’s going to be possible for me to play (here) as we were testing the leg on the tennis court. I had enough time in the gym, fitness-wise, and built a good base. I had almost three weeks of no tennis. Last few days I was getting in as much practice as possible to get myself back in competitive shape.”
“I haven’t felt any pain whatsoever out on the court for a week now,” Djokovic said. “I’m getting closer to hundred percent, still not there in terms of the game itself, how I feel on the court. But the important thing is there is no pain. I don’t have a hindrance to the way I move on the court.”