Tuesday Feb 22 2022

Khachanov supports Djokovic after setting up Dubai encounter

Karen Khachanov (L) and Novak Djokovic (R). — AFP
Karen Khachanov (L) and Novak Djokovic (R). — AFP

  • Khachanov says that he respected Serb’s unwavering position against taking COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Andy Murray says he did not agree with Djokovic’s stance against vaccination but believed “it would be better for tennis if he was playing all of the major events”.
  • Djokovic says he has been given a positive reception by players in Dubai locker room this week.

DUBAI: Novak Djokovic’s second-round opponent in Dubai will be world number 26 Karen Khachanov, who said on Tuesday he respected the Serb’s unwavering position against taking the COVID-19 vaccination.

The Serb’s main rival for the title, second seed Andrey Rublev echoed the sentiment after winning his opening match, saying tennis “needs” Djokovic.

Khachanov came through a two-hour 46-minute duel with Australian Alex de Minaur, 6-3, 6-7 (1/7), 7-5, to book a last-16 meeting with the top-seeded Djokovic.

Because he is unvaccinated, Djokovic will struggle to travel to many countries this season and has said he currently isn’t allowed to enter the United States, where two Masters 1000 tournaments are being held next month in Indian Wells and Miami.

On Monday, Andy Murray said he did not agree with Djokovic’s stance against vaccination but believed “it would be better for tennis if he was playing all of the major events”.

“For sure I agree with Andy. It’s a very delicate situation where it’s basically his (Djokovic’s) decision; he needs to stand with his decisions and I respect that a lot,” Khachanov told AFP on Tuesday.

“Obviously it would be for sure better if he can play a normal season and he can go everywhere but I think he has his team around him, he has his own decisions and he’ll stick to them.

“But if we speak in general, of course not seeing him in many tournaments as a world number one, it will be tough for him to maybe stay there and to find the rhythm also. So let’s see what happens.”

Djokovic made his 2022 season debut on Monday, beating Italian wildcard Lorenzo Musetti 6-3, 6-3 in his first match since getting deported from Australia last month.

The world number one said he has been given a positive reception by the players in the Dubai locker room this week.

Several continued to offer support in public on Tuesday.

“It’s great to see Novak back because we need him,” Rublev told reporters following his first-round win over Daniel Evans 6-4, 7-5.

The Russian said his generation owes a lot to Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

“These three players, Roger, Novak and Rafa, are the ones who changed tennis. Because of the three, tennis I think is at the top moment of all history.

“Even now, I can see in Russia much more people follow tennis, much more recognise me. This is something that normally wasn’t happening in the past.

“I, as a player, think I win a lot because of them.”

Tough few weeks

Hubert Hurkacz also talked about Djokovic.

“It’s great to see him here, he played a great match,” said the Polish number five seed who beat Alexander Bublik 6-3, 6-1 on Tuesday

“I’m very happy for him after a tough few weeks for him, especially in the beginning of the year.”

Khachanov owns a 1-4 head-to-head record against Djokovic, whose sole defeat to the Russian came in the Paris Masters final three-and-a-half years ago.

“For him, it’s just his first tournament, he played really great yesterday for his start of the season,” said Khachanov. “But I will be there, I will try to fight, I’ll try to do my game and let’s see how tough it will be.”

Both of last year’s finalists in Dubai, champion Aslan Karatsev and runner-up Lloyd Harris, suffered opening-round exits on Tuesday.

Karatzev lost 7-5, 6-3 to American world number 61 Mackenzie McDonald. Harris fell to Slovakian lucky loser Alex Molcan 6-3, 6-3.

Fourth-seeded Jannik Sinner saved three match points in the second-set tiebreak en route to a 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 victory over Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. The 20-year-old’s reward is a last-16 showdown with Murray.