Novak Djokovic Confirms Return But Admits He Is Not Fully Fit - UBITENNIS
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Novak Djokovic Confirms Return But Admits He Is Not Fully Fit

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Novak Djokovic - 2022 Nitto ATP Finals Turin (photo Twitter @atptour)

Novak Djokovic will headline next week’s Dubai Tennis Championships despite admitting that he is yet to fully recover from his recent injury setback. 

The world No.1 has enjoyed a dream start to the season by winning 12 matches in a row. He won his first title of the season at the Adelaide International before going on to claim a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. An achievement which has elevated him back to the top of the world rankings. 

However, the Serbian has also been hampered by a hamstring issue which at one stage threatened to derail his winning streak. The exact details of the injury were never publicly disclosed by Djokovic’s team but the Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley, claimed the tennis star suffered a 3cm tear in the region. 

“I’m not at 100 percent yet, but I’m getting closer. That’s why we made the decision together that I’m going to Dubai, I’m travelling tomorrow,” Djokovic told reporters in Belgrade on Wednesday afternoon.
“Ambitions are always the highest, regardless of the tournament.” He added. 

Djokovic’s announcement comes amid uncertainty over his upcoming schedule. Next month the Tour moves to America where Masters 1000 events will be held in Indian Wells and Miami. As it currently stands Djokovic is not allowed to enter the country as he is unvaccinated against COVID-19. However, he has submitted an appeal for a special exemption to be given to him by authorities. America currently has a national public health emergency law in place to help curb the spread of the virus which will end in May. 

“I am waiting for an answer, I would like to go, but it is not in my hands,” he said. 
“I’m getting ready, but we’ll see in the next two weeks how things go. I’m glad I got the support of the tournament directors in Indian Wells and Miami. I hope the third party (American authorities) will give a positive response, that’s all I can say.”

When quizzed by reporters about the prospect of losing his appeal for a special exemption, the 35-year-old says there could be a silver lining to such a scenario which is that he will have more time to prepare for playing on the clay. Djokovic has won the French Open twice in his career so far which was in 2016 and 2021.

“Last year, for the first few months, I didn’t compete at all, not because of me and my health problems, but because of other reasons. This year everything started great but we’ll see. It (2023) started differently, I won Australia and I have a lot of self-confidence, so even if America doesn’t happen I’ll be in good shape,” Djokovic explained. 
“I’ll have more time to prepare for clay, the most demanding surface. Nadal is the best player in history on that surface, I not bad either, and this year I will try to start the season better on clay, which was not the case in recent years.”
“The ultimate goal is always Roland Garros. I’m not sure what (other events) I’ll play on clay yet, but I know I’ll definitely play Monte Carlo and Banja Luka.”

Record-breaking reign and his future

Djokovic’s decision to speak with the media in his native Serbia coincides with the week where he has drawn level with Steffi Graf for the most weeks a player has held the world No.1 ranking (377). He is guaranteed to break this milestone next week regardless of how rival Carlos Alcaraz performs in Rio. 

Alcaraz could draw level with Djokovic on points if he wins the South American event but wouldn’t be able to overtake him due to the ATP rulebook. If two players have the same points total, the first way to break the tie is to count the points won at majors, Masters 1000 events and the ATP Finals. In this scenario, Djokovic leads his Spanish rival by 5820 points against 5090. 

“I am happy that I managed to catch up to Steffi Graf’s record. I have said countless times that this sport is everything in my life, I have subordinated everything to it and I am very lucky to have a great team of people around me, not only professional but also a family that gave me unreserved support to stand here today with all the achievements,” Djokovic commented.

As for how much longer he thinks he can keep going on the Tour, Djokovic says he has no plans to limit himself as he once again brushes aside speculation over his retirement. 

“I don’t have a final number and a limit to which I will play, although people automatically start after 30 to ask the question in all sports when is the end. Me, Federer and Nadal have often encountered those questions since we passed 30,” he said. 
“(The) hunger is still present, although I would characterize it more as a passion for sports and a desire for competition. I like to play tennis recreationally with my son, and with the children. It’s not that I have an aversion to tennis because it takes up a large part of my life, but professionally I have the desire to continue to record historical results.”

NOTE – Quotes have been translated from Serbian to English 

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Carlos Alcaraz In Doubt For Madrid Open Title Defence

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Carlos Alcaraz admits that he is not certain if he will be ready in time to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.

The 20-year-old is yet to play a clay tournament in Europe due to a forearm injury which ruled him out of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He hurt his right arm whilst training shortly before the Monte Carlo event began. 

It is the latest in a series of injury issues that has affected Alcaraz throughout his young career. Since the start of 2023, he has also been derailed by issues with his abdominal, hamstring, post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscular discomfort in his spine. 

“My feeling isn’t right, but it is what it is. Now I’m fully focused on recovery and I have a little more time,” Alcaraz told reporters in Barcelona on Monday.
“My goal is to try and go to the Madrid Open, but at the moment nothing is certain. I was given specific recovery times and I’ve respected them, but I haven’t felt good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
“I can’t say I’ll be 100% in Madrid, but that’s my intention. We’ll train and do everything we can so that the feelings improve so I can play a match … It’s also a very special tournament for me.”

Alcaraz has won the past two editions of the Madrid Open, which is classed as a Masters 1000 event. In 2022 he defeated Alexander Zverev in the final and then 12 months later he beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the title match.

The setback comes after what has been a steady start to the year for Alcaraz who has reached the quarter-finals or better in four out of five tournaments played. He successfully defended his title in Indian Wells and then reached the semi-finals in Miami. 

Should he not play in Madrid, it is likely that the Spaniard will lose his No.2 spot to Jannik Sinner who is just over 100 points behind him in the standings. He will still have the chance to play a clay-court event before the French Open with Rome taking place early next month. 

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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