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Djokovic ready to return in Dubai; dreaming of Nadal final at Roland-Garros

The world No 1 says he is still waiting to hear if he will be allowed to play in Indian Wells and Miami

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, Roland-Garros AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Novak Djokovic will return to action at the Dubai Duty Free Championships next week, but the newly-crowned Australian Open champion says he’s already looking forward to Roland-Garros and hopefully a clash with 14-time champion Rafael Nadal.

The 35-year-old told a press conference in Belgrade on Wednesday that he’s ready to play in Dubai, even if he is not yet 100 percent recovered from the hamstring injury he carried through the Australian Open.

“I have made a decision to go to Dubai, I travel tomorrow,” he said. “I am close to 100 percent intensity, the injury is good.”

The Serb is also waiting to hear if he will be granted an exemption from Covid-19 travel restrictions to enter the United States to play the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami.

But while his immediate focus is on hitting the ground running in Dubai, Djokovic said he’d love to take on Nadal in the final in Paris, where the two men will each be chasing a record 23rd Grand Slam title.

“Roland Garros finals!,” Djokovic said, when asked where he would like his 60th meeting with the Spaniard to be.

“I think we would both agree. He is definitely the biggest rival in my career, we are generationally close as well, although he started to achieve more success on a professional level earlier than me.”

Novak Djokovic, 2023
Novak Djokovic, 2023 | © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Djokovic reflects on Federer and Nadal influence

Djokovic shows no sign of slowing down just yet, his victory in Melbourne pulling him alongside Nadal on 22 Grand Slam titles. On Monday, he will also become the first person to be ranked world No 1 for 378 weeks or more (he currently stands level with Steffi Graf on 377).

It’s a record he’s rightly proud of. And the Serb says he looks forward to one day chatting with both Federer and Nadal about all they have achieved in the sport and the role they’ve played in making him the player he is.

“Federer and Nadal shaped me as a player,” he said. “I had to solve the puzzle they were to me from 2008 to 2011.

“While we are active, we don’t allow ourselves to reflect, we don’t have time to do it. But after all is said and done, I hope that we can chat about it privately, talk about the memories. For now, we are grandpas that are preventing these young players from winning slams.”

Indian Wells and Miami still up in the air

Though the United States is due to lift its restrictions on travel for those people who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 in May, that comes too late for Djokovic to play in Indian Wells and Miami, as things stand.

However, Djokovic, who was not allowed to enter the US to play the US Open last year, has applied for an exemption, but has yet to hear back.

“USA? It’s not in my hands, I am waiting for an answer,” he said. “All I know is that the process is ongoing, but I am glad I have the support of the tournament directors. I just hope that the third party, which makes the decision, will think the same.”

Novak Djokovic
Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 25, 2023 Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during a press conference after winning his quarter-final match against Russia’s Andrey Rublev (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

No limits on how long he will play on

The way Djokovic played in Australia, despite injury, suggests he may well be able to add to his tally of Grand Grand Slam titles in the next few years. How many, no one knows, not even Djokovic himself.

“That number doesn’t exist,” he said, laughing. “I don’t put any limits as to how long I will keep on going. After the age of 30, athletes get asked about retirement, tennis players in particular. You said ‘hunger’, but I think of it more as a passion towards the sport and huge desire to compete. I love tennis, I love playing it with my son, I love it in any form, it’s not like I became repulsed by tennis in any way just because it’s a very big part of my life.

“On a professional note, I want to keep writing the history of this sport. Some people say that it is arrogant when I speak about it openly, but I think it’s normal to be open about your goals and ambitions. One thing that allowed me to be this successful is that I am always focused on the next challenge, because people keep asking me about the past or about the future.

“Of course, I do have a long-term plan with my team, six-months schedule in order to prepare in the best possible way, but most of my energy – mentally and emotionally – always lies on the next thing I need to do. Even next practice, I can be demanding and I always seek to give my best, and I ask my team to do the same, so they have a hard time with mw sometimes. You can call it a mild obsession with all the detail the sport consists of. You can find that trait in many great athletes, Kobe Bryant for instance.”

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