Novak Djokovic was emotional after his 6-3 7-6(2) victory over Karen Khachanov in Dubai. The world No 1 had not been able to start his 2022 season until Monday after he was deported from Australia ahead of the season-opening Grand Slam and admitted he didn’t want to stop playing any time soon in a hint that retirement was far in the future.
Djokovic played his first match in 80 days on Monday, defeating Lorenzo Musetti in the opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
He followed it up with another impressive victory in the second round, overcoming some adversity in the second set to defeat world No 26 Karen Khachanov 6-3 7-6(2).
It means the Serb is through to the quarter-final of his first tournament of the season, where he will face qualifier Jiri Vesely.
He had been unable to start his year sooner after he was deported from Australia last month, having his visa cancelled twice when he arrived in the country unvaccinated.
Speaking after he was able to recover from losing his break-lead in the second set to close the match out in the tiebreak, Djokovic was moved as he thanked the crowd for giving both players a good atmosphere.
“Of course there were [nerves]. I mean it’s part of professional sport, obviously feeling tired, motivated but at the same time also stressed, especially in the moments where you’re facing a break point,” the five-time Dubai champion said, reflecting on the match against Khachanov.
“I thought the atmosphere tonight on the court, on the stadium was terrific. Thank you so much.”
The 20-time Grand Slam champion also noted that the crowd had been fair to both players and shared his gratitude to the fans for allowing him and Khachanov to experience equal support.
He added: “It was equally good support for both Karen and me, and for us as tennis players travelling around the world this is what we play for, these kinds of atmospheres, this kind of passion from the people that come to watch us and I want to thank you from my heart. Thank you so much, really.”
Djokovic, who had his wife Jelena and seven-year-old son Stefan in the crowd, also hinted that he wasn’t ready to retire any time soon as he opened up on returning to the tennis court after three months away.
“Well I missed it obviously. This is my life, you know,” he said, sounding emotional.
“This is what I’ve known to do and I still keep on doing for the last 20 years almost. Professional tennis.”