Djokovic Wins Fifth Dubai Title

Novak Djokovic kisses the Dubai trophy (photo: DDFT)

DUBAI, February 29, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Top seed Novak Djokovic won his fifth Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships singles title – and first since 2013 – in his sixth Emirates final Saturday night. He played consistently throughout the entertaining one hour and 17 minute final against second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and beat the Greek star, 6-3, 6-4, winning with both long, sustained rallies as well as with his ability to execute winners with precision accuracy. It was the fifth Dubai final in tournament history between the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, but the first time that the top seed has won.

The Dubai victory was Djokovic’s 18th in 2020 and 21st overall going back to last November’s Davis Cup Finals. During his remarkable winning streak, Djokovic helped lead Serbia to the ATP Cup title in January and won a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown. He now holds 79 career titles.

“Of course I’m trying to embrace the moment and appreciate where I am,” said Djokovic. “I think this has been one of the best starts of all seasons I had in my career. I feel great on the court. I’ve been playing great tennis on the hard court that is my most successful and preferred surface. I’m just grateful that I’m playing well, feeling well. I’ve won many matches in a row. I’ll try to keep that run going.”

Djokovic, who has now won 20-or-more matches seven times in his astonishing career, was asked during an on-court interview that preceded the trophy ceremony what specific target he was setting for himself. He quipped: “Well, one of the targets is to go unbeaten the whole season. No, I’m kidding! … Um, I’m not kidding.”

Djokovic, who has now won 20-or-more matches seven times in his astonishing career, was asked during an on-court interview that preceded the trophy ceremony what specific target he was setting for himself. He quipped: “Well, one of the targets is to go unbeaten the whole season. No, I’m kidding! … Um, I’m not kidding.”

Later, as he received appreciative plaudits from the sell-out Centre Court audience that filled Dubai Tennis Stadium at the Aviation Club, Djokovic was asked how special winning his fifth Dubai title was to him. “Every title is special. Of course, I haven’t participated in the Dubai tournament for four years and I’ve missed playing here. It’s a thrill to be a part of the tournament, again, and winning it is extra special.”

While the fifth meeting between the World No. 1 from Serbia and the rising Greek star and reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion broke a 2-2 tie in their career head-to-head series, the loss for Tsitsipas dropped his record in finals in ATP 500 level and above to 1-5. Four of those five losses have come against the Big Three (Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who beat Tsitsipas in the 2019 Dubai final).

“Well, it happened again. It had to happen, of course,” said Tsitsipas during the trophy ceremony. “It’s a great learning experience playing out there such an athlete. It’s just unbelievable to be learning match by match, trying to get better. I think playing in all these different cities – and Dubai is such an amazing city for tennis – it makes me want to come back. … I do appreciate the love and support I received. The support is important.”

When Tsitsipas was asked what he would take away from his second straight Dubai runner-up finish, the philosopher in him didn’t disappoint. He smiled at the question and said: “Keep failing until you make it, I guess. It’s a loop of constant repetition, trying to get better, trying to repeat yourself and learn from your mistakes. To all the young kids out there, believe in yourself, it’s going to come. It’s all patience and dedication to what you love.”

The title match was a close one throughout, and it wasn’t until Djokovic broke in his only chance to go ahead 5-3 in the first set, thanks to winning a 10-shot rally with a solid, cross-court backhand winner, that he began to take charge of nearly every big moment. He won the 39-minute set on his serve in the next game with a forehand winner.

In the second set, Djokovic broke again to go ahead 3-2, but wasn’t able to consolidate the break as Tsitsipas won a 25-shot rally during the game to level at 3-all. However, Djokovic earned his third break of the match when Tsitsipas netted an easy backhand return at the finish of a 21-shot exchange. All that was left was for Djokovic to serve out the win, which he promptly did with a love hold. Then, it was his time to celebrate and lift his arms in his familiar salute to the fans.

Djokovic arrived on Centre Court as no stranger to the Emirates having won Dubai four times (2009-11, 2013) while appearing in five previous finals. By saving three match points en route to winning his semifinal match over Gaël Monfils Friday night and reaching his sixth final in Dubai, not only did Djokovic maintain his unbeaten streak, he’d also won a remarkable 41 of 47 sets played this season.

Despite starting tentatively, Djokovic seemed happy with how the match turned in his favor. “I was fortunate to hold my service games,” he said. “He was very close to break my serve first three service games that I had in the first set. After that, that probable decisive break of serve at 4-3 that allowed me to serve it out for the set, I felt mentally I started having a little bit more of an advantage on the court. You could sense that I got the momentum. I didn’t want to lose the momentum.”

Meanwhile, Tsitsipas, who has been a crowd favorite all week – among his legion of fans whom he has taken to calling “Tsitsipals” – came in to Saturday evening’s finale 5-5 in career finals and riding an eight-match winning streak while winning 16 of his previous 17 sets. A week ago, he successfully defended his title at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille.

“I know tennis is a constant circle that keeps repeating itself over and over again, same tournaments, same locations, same players,” said Tsitsipas following his semifinal win over Daniel Evans on Friday. “I’m sort of in a mindset where I really don’t think of defending. I was more kind of like adding because it’s ATP Race, too. It’s ATP, like, regular rankings. I don’t know how to call it. I’m thinking more of the ATP Race and making it into the Nitto ATP Finals at the end of the year. I need to know how this works for me in order to play again there.”

In their only previous meeting in a final, Djokovic prevailed in straight sets in Madrid last May. The Dubai outcome mirrored Madrid. Naturally, Tsitsipas was deflated by his loss to Djokovic in a final, again.

“I don’t really feel much, honestly,” Tsitsipas said during his post-match press conference. “I think I just felt more happy first year when I made the final. For sure, I’m proud of myself because I showed good discipline and I managed to play the same this year. But it’s kind of disappointing trying so hard and much and not really getting the final result that you want. For sure, I would love to see myself holding that trophy.

“Of course, he gave more than me and he deserves it.”

Peers and Venus win first title as a team

As the participants in the Dubai doubles final lined up on opposite sides of the net – John Peers of Australia and Michael Venus from New Zealand on one side and Raven Klaasen from South Africa and Oliver Marach of Austria on the other – they shared one thing in common: all four players were trying to earn their first ATP Tour title of the season and first in Dubai. Both teams began playing this season after switching partners. In fact, Klaasen and Venus were a longtime team. Sometimes, though, change is a good thing.

The unseeded Peers and Venus beat the fourth seeds Klaasen and Marach, 6-3, 6-2, by saving both break points they faced during the 59-minute championship match.

Peers and Venus (5-3), appearing in their first ATP final in just their fourth tournament together, had not lost a set (6-0) this week and earlier knocked out the No. 1 seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury. Meanwhile, Klaasen and Marach also had not dropped a set (6-0) in three matches. Both are no strangers to playing in doubles finals. Peers has now won 21 ATP Tour doubles titles and Venus 11.

“(There is) a lot of excitement. I mean, we worked hard the past few months to try to play at this level for a whole tournament,” said the 31-year-old Peers. “It was really good and pleasing we were able to do that together.

“I know we’ll take a lot of confidence with that moving forward, take a look at the areas we need to keep working on. We have got to keep improving.”

Venus, 32, said that with any new partnership, one doesn’t know how it will fare until getting on the court and playing. “Until you get on the court and you start to understand exactly what your partner likes to see in certain situations, how they react to things and that, it takes time to figure those things out.

“We really spent probably the past two or three weeks sitting down, trying to go over it to try to have a better understanding. I think that really helped us.”

By the numbers

• For his title win, Novak Djokovic earned $565,705 in prize money and 500 ATP ranking points, while Tsitsipas received $284,485 earnings and 300 ATP points. Doubles titlists John Peers and Michael Venus will share $181,360 in prize money and gaine 500 ATP doubles rankings points, while Klaasen and Marach split $88,780 and 300 ATP points.

• With his title win in Dubai to complement his Australian Open crown, Novak Djokovic became the fourth player to win two ATP Tour titles this season. He joins Cristian Garin (Córdoba, Rio), Gaël Monfils (Montpellier, Rotterdam) and Andrey Rublev (Doha, Adelaide).

• The Djokovic-Tsitsipas final marked the first Dubai final between two top seeds since 2015 and it was the first time that a No. 1 seed had beaten at No. 2 seed at Dubai.

• When Novak Djokovic defeated Gaël Monfils Friday night for his 20th consecutive victory, it marked the seventh time that he’s won 20 or more consecutive matches. His longest winning streak is 43 matches and it came back in 2000-11.

What they’re tweeting