Top seed Novak Djokovic is back in Dubai, gearing up to defend the title and ranking points he won on four different occasions at this event, including last year. The Serb will begin his campaign against Denis Istomin, whom he has frequently encountered on the professional circuit. This will mark this fifth time the two competitors will meet on the ATP World Tour, with Djokovic leading the head-to-head series with a perfect 4-0 score.
Djokovic is partaking in his first ATP Tour event of the season, following his semi-final exit to Stanislas Wawrinka at the Australian Open last month. Having chosen to skip many of the lead-up and follow-up events during that period, Djokovic has managed to find time for training, and will now be looking to get back on track, with a strong defence of his Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship title. The world No. 2 has reached the semi-final here six times, winning the title on four different occasions, emphasizing his comfort on this particular (slightly faster) surface.
“I took quite a bit of time off. It’s more than four weeks since my last official match. I played only five matches this year. It is going to be challenging for me to go out on the court in a few days and try to find a way to play match situations. I practised a lot for a few weeks and that is why I have to be extra careful because it’s totally different when you get on the court and play an official match in front of thousands of people. I have been trying to play many points in the last few days. Each day, I felt a bit of progress and hopefully I can have a good tournament.”
World No. 54 Denis Istomin is coming off an opening round exit to Ernests Gulbis at Rotterdam two weeks back, one of his worst performances since the start of the 2014 season. Prior to that, he had managed to reach the third round of the Australian Open, where he lost to Djokovic and reached the quarter-finals at Sydney and Montpellier. He currently holds a record of 6-5 for the season.
The former world No. 1 holds a perfect 4-0 record against Istomin heading into their opening round encounter tomorrow evening. While their first two meetings ended in straight sets, their third encounter at the Rogers Cup last year went to a deciding set, after Istomin snatched the opener 6-2. The two have already encountered each other once already in 2014: a third round meeting in Melbourne, which Djokovic won in straight sets. The Uzbekistanian is certainly a tough opening match for Djokovic, but will likely not even manage a single set against the defending champion in Dubai. The Serb has been in remarkable form and that will likely continue as he works his way through the draw.
Prediction: Novak Djokovic in Straight Sets