World No. 1, Novak Djokovic aims to maintain his perfect start to the season in Dubai, as he opens his campaign against Tunisian wildcard, Malek Jaziri on Monday.
Djokovic vs Jaziri is live from Dubai on Monday, 24 February from 7:00pm local time/ 3:00pm GMT
Djokovic is competing for the first time since the Australian Open, where he defeated Dominic Thiem in a five-set final to claim a record-extending eighth title. The Serbian is now up to 17 Grand Slam titles, just three behind Roger Federer’s all-time record. Djokovic also regained his No. 1 ranking by virtue of his Melbourne triumph.
The Serbian had lost the top ranking to great rival, Rafael Nadal towards the end of last year, but with very little to defend between now and the end of the Miami Open, he’s got a chance to really consolidate the position, as he closes in another of Federer’s record- the most weeks at No. 1. Despite losing the No. 1 ranking last season, it was still a very fine year for the Serbian, who claimed five titles, including two more majors in Australia and Wimbledon. He was also champion in Madrid, Tokyo and Paris.
The 32-year-old arrives Dubai with a 13-0 singles record in 2020, having also inspired Serbia to victory at the inaugural ATP Cup. Djokovic won all of his singles matches, and added two doubles wins for good measure. The top seed is a four-time champion in Dubai, where he owns an impressive 36-6 record, but he has not won the title since defeating Tomas Berdych in the 2013 final. Since then, he has made the semi-finals in 2014, final in 2015 and quarter finals in 2016. This will be his first appearance at the tournament since 2016.
Will it be a winning return for the world No. 1 as he opens against 2018 semi-finalist, Malek Jaziri on Monday? Interestingly, Djokovic’s last victory in Dubai was over Jaziri in the second round in 2016- he will be after a similar outcome when he faces off against the Tunisian on Monday.
Jaziri’s spectacular run to the 2018 Dubai semi-finals remains one of the highest points of his career. The Tunisian stunned then world No. 4, Grigor Dimitrov, Dutchman, Robin Haase and emerging star, Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach the last four before falling short against Roberto Bautista-Agut.
That performance took him up to No. 45 in the world, then a career-high ranking, and he enjoyed a good period after that, reaching his first tour-level final (and only one so far) a couple of months later in Istanbul. Jaziri finished that season at 45th in the rankings, but he endured a very poor 2019, tumbling out of the top-200 by the end of a forgettable campaign.
The Tunisian won just six tour-level matches all through 2019, and spent most of the second half of the year competing on the Challenger Tour. He didn’t have much joy with the challengers either, winning just six of 16 matches. Jaziri’s struggles have continued into 2020: He was beaten by Mikhail Kukushkin in his only tour-level main draw match so far in Doha, and fell in the qualifying rounds in Pune, losing to Blaz Rola. He has not won a tour-level match since Estoril in May last year.
His other appearances this season have been on the Challenger Tour, where he’s stuttered to a 1-3 record.
Apart from his Dubai semi-final in 2018, Jaziri also reached the quarters in 2014, but the chances of a repeat performance in 2020 are extremely slim as the out-of-sorts world No. 259 takes on the in-form world No. 1 in the first round on Monday.
Djokovic scored a 6-1 6-2 victory over Jaziri in their only previous encounter in Dubai in 2016; Monday’s rematch should go along the same lines.