Djokovic to lock horns with Musetti in first match since deportation from Australia

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Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor

World No.1 and five-time Dubai champion Novak Djokovic will meet Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in his opening match of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship as he returns to the court following his expulsion from Australia ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne.

Still unvaccinated among the top 10 players of the world, the 34-year-old Serbian star was twice detained and deported from Australia after an 11-day saga where he had spent five nights at an immigration detention hotel.

“I’m excited to go out on the tennis court next Monday,” he had told the media during his visit to Expo 2020 Dubai.

“I honestly miss tennis after everything that has happened, he added.

Djokovic won the first of his three straight titles in 2009, was victorious again in 2013 and a finalist in 2015, and he clinched the winners trophy for a fifth time in 2020.

The draw for the ATP tournament took place at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on Saturday.

This will be the second clash between the Serbian and wild card Musetti. The last time they faced each other was at the French Open in 2021.

The world No.57 from Italy was present during the draw. His immediate reaction after being paired with the world’s top-ranked player was there’s not so much to talk about.

“Of course, everyone (in the draw) is really tough but I was not a lucky one. But I think it is going to be a really nice experience to play on Centre Court with a full crowd. So, I will try to enjoy it and I will try to take revenge for Roland Garros from last year,”

“It has been a year playing without crowds and we know the difference. I have good memories and I played qualifiers here and I remember I came through and I played my first match against Rublev.”

“My target at the moment is to just play and get more experience, play better and to improve each day,” he added.

The 2018 champion Roberto Bautista Agut is also placed in the same quarter.

Bautista Agut, who is seeded eighth, will face Arthur Rinderknech in his opening match.

Others in the same quarter include former US Open champion Marin Cilic and Karen Khachanov, who could face Djokovic in the second round.

Andrey Rublev is seeded second and squares off against Dan Evans, while third seed and Rotterdam Open winner Felix Auger Aliassime takes on Nikoloz Basilashvili.

Also in the same quarter of the draw is tournament wild card Malek Jaziri, who in 2018 reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Bautista Agut.

Defending champion Aslan Karatsev is seeded seventh and will start the campaign against Mackenzie McDonald.

Fourth seed Jannick Sinner will meet Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, fifth-seeded Denis Shapovalov faces Marton Fucsovics, and sixth seed Hubert Hurkacz takes on Alexander Bublik.

“This is the 30th year of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, and I’m happy to say that during that time we’ve had more than 21 number one’s participate in the tournament,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free.

“Novak Djokovic is among them, and we are delighted to welcome him to Dubai once again and wish him well as he attempts to win his 87th career title.”

This year Dubai’s ATP tournament is celebrating its 30th anniversary and the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management announced last week that sports events are allowed to have full capacity for participation, spectating and operations.

“We are expecting a big turnout because the crowd is back to 100 percent capacity and word has been spreading over the last week about the increase in capacity.

“We have in excess of 26,000 people attending the tennis so far and we are expecting to break the 30,000 mark,” added McLoughlin.

“Once again the draw for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is strong with four of the top 10 and eight of the top 20 competing to become the 30th anniversary champion,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak.

“Even the top seeds face potentially difficult matches and it will be very interesting to see who emerges as the winner.”

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