The world No1 is not only a multiple titlist at a tournament that he loves but also happens to be seeking both his fifth in Dubai and his 50th career trophy.
Clearly comfortable in body, mind and heart, Djokovic has exuded more confidence with every month and every title that has passed since this time last year.
Then, he bounced back from a semi loss here against Roger Federer to avenge the defeat and claim the Indian Wells title, followed by the Miami and Rome titles, a final run at Roland Garros and then reclaimed the No1 ranking with the Wimbledon title.
After a lull, Djokovic went on to reach the semis at the US Open, win Beijing, Paris and the ATP World Tour Finals, and he began this year with a record fifth Australian title, too.
Along the way he married and became a father for the first time. All was and is rosy in the Djokovic world.
That he had a 25-2 record in Dubai, including 4-0 in finals—and had lost neither of his previous matches against Pospisil—was just the cherry on the cake.
He also believed that his success in Melbourne boded well for Dubai, as he told ATPWorldTour.com: “Every time I win there I probably win here. The reason I’m so successful here is building on the confidence and that it’s the beginning of the season and I’m motivated, fresh and eager to compete.
“I came here five days early as I have been doing the last six or seven years that I’ve been participating in the event; getting used to the conditions that are quite different.
“It is always difficult… We always have at least four top-10 players and that says enough about the quality of the event.”
Make no mistake, though: Pospisil has been one of the promising risers on the tour in the last 18 months, peaking at No25 a year ago, and with wins over the likes of Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych, and twice taking Federer to three sets. He also made a semi run at his home Masters in Montreal in 2013. Then last summer, he shot into the limelight with Jack Sock as the duo took an unexpected Wimbledon doubles title.
But Pospisil has also been plagued by neck and back problems, and of late has looked short of confidence when it came to big singles contests. That proved to be the case here, too. He held his own until the business end of the first set, getting broken at 4-4, and Djokovic served it out, 6-4.
Neither man was serving at their best, but for Pospisil, that removes one of his key weapons. So even with just four winners on the stats sheet and considerably more errors, Djokovic had not been too troubled.
The second set saw some of the spark that has made Pospisil such a prospect. Having been broken to love in the third game, he hit back when the Djokovic first serve missed its mark and attacked the net. It reaped rewards, and a gorgeous angled touch volley beat even the greyhound speed of the Serb. The Canadian broke back and the arena, charmed by the flair and shot-making of the 24-year-old, erupted.
Indeed they cheered every point he won, and he went on to hold, 3-2. Not done with that, he raced to 40-0 on Djokovic’s serve for three more break points but the Serb, shaking his head as the forehand winners shot by, held firm with some clutch serving, and Pospisil’s chance evaporated.
Djokovic broke and, after just an hour and 18 minutes, served out the match, 6-4.
It had been far from a soaring performance, but then none of the top seeds has shone in the early stages this week: It takes time to adapt from one environment, one temperature, one timezone to another, as Djokovic afterwards stressed.
“[The conditions] are challenging, but I thought the last two days were quite nice compared to the weekend. There was a lot of sand in the air, sandstorm and so forth… not so common for the time that I spent in Dubai for the last nine years. I haven’t seen three days in a row like that. It’s a challenge. For us tennis players, we need to be able to adjust very quickly, and that’s probably one of the most demanding things about our sport, that week in, week out, you need to switch from indoor, outdoor, from dry air to humid air, different balls, different surfaces.”
But it was a more than satisfactory match—helped not a little by 38 errors from Pospisil. Djokovic added: “First match since Australian Open, still looking for that rhythm on the court. But I managed to stay mentally tough, patient in rallies, I thought. As soon as we get through the rally, I have a better chance of winning. He’s a very flashy player, aggressive, goes after his shots…. [But] when his first serve percentage dropped, I knew that’s my chance… Even though my serve wasn’t at the level where I wanted it to be. Hopefully the next match can be better.”
Djokovic will play Andrey Golubev tomorrow, same time, same place.
In Andy Murray’s quarter of the draw, wild card Marcos Baghdatis beat No8 seed David Goffin, 6-2, 7-5, and will now face Lucky Loser, the 18-year-old Borna Coric, who beat Tunisian Malek Jaziri, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
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