Djokovic still feeling consequences of injury in Dubai after scare

Novak Djokovic has confessed that his hamstring injury is still having a knock-on effect in his matches after suffering a scare against qualifier Tomas Machac in the first round of Dubai. The top seed was dragged into a final set tiebreak by the world No 130 and later admitted that it would take time to “find the groove” after recovering from injury and said he wasn’t feeling the “best” fitness-wise.

Djokovic earned a hard-fought victory in his opening match at the Dubai Championships as he needed two hours and 27 minutes to scrape past the qualifier 6-3 3-6 7-6(1). It marked his first match since winning a record-equalling 22nd Major at the Australian Open, where the Serb was carrying a hamstring injury.

And the world No 1 is still feeling the effects of his time away from the practice court after revealing that he didn’t hit for three weeks after winning in Melbourne, as he explained how the injury was still causing some trouble in the match despite being fully recovered. “Well, I’m still finding my best level, I would say,” Djokovic said after his first-round win.

“I know that after an injury, it’s going to take a little bit of time and few matches for me to really find the groove, find the intensity on the court, find that movement, I guess timing. I made a lot of unforced errors tonight that got me into trouble.”

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A five-time former champion in Dubai, Djokovic also explained how he suffered from some dips in form during the match as a consequence of his short injury layoff. “Movement-wise, I think it was okay. Fitness-wise, not the best that I normally would feel,” he continued.

“I think also I guess execution of the shots could have been better. I had some I guess bigger drops than I would normally have in terms of shot-making, some uncharacteristic errors happening from both ends. I guess that’s part of the process of finding the timing, finding the tempo, finding the balance on the court.”

But the world No 1 was still taking the positives from the match, as he said he was no longer worried about the hamstring itself. Djokovic added: “I wasn’t thinking about my leg today, which is great. It was not bothering me at all. That’s great news.

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“But injury is an injury. There’s a muscle memory and it plays with your mind a little bit, it plays with your biomechanics, with your preparation for the shot, execution for the shot. I do feel a difference definitely comparing to the level that I had and the kind of execution I had in Australia. But it’s not that negative. Of course, there’s a lot to be happy about tonight. I think the fighting spirit was there. Tiebreak was as good as it can be. Take it day by day and see where it can go.”

Djokovic also voiced his praise for Machac – whose career high is just No 97 – after the 22-year-old surprised him with his level and admitted that he had to fight to earn the victory. “Credit to him, he did surprise me. Never faced him. I did my analysis of his game and prepared myself well,” he said.

“Credit to him, he went for his shots, especially down the line backhand, serve and volley. He didn’t miss one volley. It was unbelievable. He played on such a high quality. He wasn’t missing at all. I had to earn this victory. I played a pretty much perfect tiebreak, some great shots. I found another gear when it mattered.I’m really pleased to get a win like this one after almost more than four weeks of not playing any competition.”

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