Who can stop Novak Djokovic in 2023? So far, nobody has.
The Serbian, who said Sunday he is approaching full health after suffering a hamstring injury in January in Australia, will next bring a perfect 12-0 record for 2023 to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Djokovic is back in action this week for the first time since collecting his record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. His unbeaten season record will be put to the test at the Dubai ATP 500, where he feels right at home.
“Dubai in the last 10 or 15 years has become one of the most important places and bases for tennis players, both men and women,” Djokovic said. “So many players come here in the offseason, including myself. I try to use a week or two in December and come play the tournament [in February]. Fantastic climate, very international, the conditions, facilities, everything is phenomenal.
“People love tennis [here]. People appreciate tennis players here. I feel comfortable. I feel welcomed. I’ve had plenty of support in previous years when I’ve played in Dubai. I’m really looking forward to a great atmosphere on the court.”
The 35-year-old has tallied a 43-7 match record at the outdoor hard-court event including titles in 2009-11, 2013, and 2020. In 2022, Djokovic suffered a quarter-final exit to eventual finalist Jiri Vesely.
Already a two-time titlist this year (Adelaide, Australian Open), the World No. 1 said he is feeling close to 100 per cent. When he captured his record-extending 10th title at Melbourne Park, the Belgrade native played through a left hamstring injury. Even so, Djokovic dropped just one set at the season’s first major.
“It was challenging,” Djokovic said. “I knew what I was going through and my team members [did also]. That makes the victory in Melbourne even greater because I had to face [adversity].
“I [didn’t] practise one single day between matches. I just warmed up for the match and played. Luckily I [had] a great preparation prior to Australia and plenty of tennis.
“Right now, I haven’t felt pain for the last week or so. I feel good on the court, still building and getting to 100 per cent. I’m still not there, but it’s a process.”
On Monday, the 93-time tour-level champion will make more history. Djokovic, who will enter his 378th week as World No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, will surpass Stefanie Graf with the most weeks atop the sport for men or women. Following his title in Melbourne, Djokovic reclaimed the No. 1 spot and his leap from World No. 5 marked the biggest jump to top spot in history (since 1973) from one edition of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings to the next.
Top seed Djokovic will begin his quest for a sixth Dubai crown against Tomas Machac. The winner will meet Tallon Griekspoor or Constant Lestienne. Djokovic could meet eighth seed Hubert Hurkacz or Andy Murray in the quarter-finals.