Djokovic Returns as ATP Features Loaded 500s

published: Feb, 21, 2022

by: Amy Lundy

After traveling through a wringer of controversy, off-court battles and snafus, Novak Djokovic finally competes in an ATP Tour match for the first time in three months as he faces Italian Lorenzo Musetti in the first round of the Dubai Tennis Championships.

On a positive note for Djokovic, he hasn’t been injured. He’s enjoyed plenty of time with family and soul-affirming journeys, which have always been important to the Serb. As the other two members of the Big 3 have shown, time away from the court, whether intended or not, can result in… groundbreaking results.

Musetti is a tough first round opponent for Djokovic. Remember that Musetti nearly knocked off the World #1 in a 5-set grinder at Roland Garros 2021 before the Italian had to retire with an injury. It represents an excellent test of where the 20-time Grand Slam champion stands with his game.

Demanding test-case matches are everywhere this week across the sport. Dubai showcases 3 of the ATP Top 10, as well as hot players inside the Top 25, plus Andy Murray. But if you think Dubai’s a good watch, check out the even-better draw for Abierto Mexicano Telcel. Acapulco features 5 of the ATP Top 10, including– say it with me– 21-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal as well as World #2 Daniil Medvedev.

Potential Matches to Watch

Unfortunately, Nadal didn’t draw anyone wildly different or intriguing in his part of the Acapulco draw. There’s a potential matchup with Maxime Cressy, who he beat to win a title in Melbourne last month. Rafa could face Matteo Berrettini in that quarter– been there, done that– and he’s got Medvedev in his half. This is the price of having a zero-bye 500 that looks like a Masters 1000.

In the bottom half of Acapulco, last week’s champion at Delray Beach, Cameron Norrie, potentially faces Alexander Zverev. That’s almost impossibly tricky for the weary lefty making a surface adjustment against the fresh and rested German.

In Dubai, Djokovic fans might look ahead to Nole-nemesis Roberto Bautista-Agut. Despite a 9-3 career record against the Spaniard, NoleFam will tell you it’s rarely easy against Robbie Bats. And in fact, Bautista-Agut beat Djokovic twice in 2019 on outdoor hard courts, which is the situation in Dubai.

If you’re looking for a dark horse, don’t count out American Taylor Fritz, who continues to improve after knee surgery, and also Murray. Yes, he’s without a permanent coach, but isn’t the Scot the kind of guy who knows how to rely on his own wits? One wonders if that might work in his favor. The only downside might be lack of people in Sir Andy’s box to receive the brunt.

Oh By the Way the WTA

Also in action is a stellar women’s field for a 1000-level event in Doha at the Qatar TotalEnergies Open. World #1 Ash Barty is not there, but almost everyone else is. Grand Slam champs Barbora Krejikova, Victoria Azarenka, Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, Angie Kerber, Simona Halep, Sofia Kenin, and hot-hitting Jelena Ostapenko all feature. Amazingly the #1 seed in this tournament, Aryna Sabalenka, is the top woman who is Slam-less. Outside of these stars, look for strong runs from Paula Badosa and Coco Gauff.

As an interesting choice, US Open champion Emma Raducanu has opted to play a WTA 250 in Guadalajara, perhaps to build confidence. But her groundstroke timing on the baseline with the altitude change could be a challenging adjustment for her.

This week presents a Grand Slam-level quality slate– if that Grand Slam were to be spread out across the globe. Over 6 and a half million dollars in prize money will be awarded. Enjoy the flow.

Amy Lundy

Amy Lundy is a reporter whose work has been featured on ESPN, CNN and The Golf Channel. She is Director of Films at The Tennis Congress.

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