Novak Djokovic has admitted he struggled following the Australian Open after marking his return at the Dubai Tennis Championship with a victory. Djokovic returned to the ATP Tour for the first time since his record-breaking 10th Australian Open title.
The World No.1 took a few weeks off after injuring his hamstring at the Adelaide International, which hampered him during the Aus Open. Djokovic refused to go into detail about his hamstring injury in a recent press conference as he shut down questions on the mysterious setback.
During his break, the 35-year-old Serb broke the record for the most time spent at No.1 in the professional tennis rankings by a man or woman. And on Wednesday, a rusty Djokovic fought off a spirited Tomas Machac to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 in Dubai.
Djokovic was forced into a third set and pushed all the way to a tiebreak. However, the World No.1 lifted his game in the penultimate points to make sure he wasn't on the end of an upset in Dubai.
"He was giving me all kinds of trouble, but I guess when it mattered I found another gear," Djokovic said in his on-court interview. "I haven't played much tennis (recently), so I'm hoping as the tournament progresses I can raise the level."
When asked about his level, Djokovic raised his concerns after the Australian Open. Following his Melbourne Park triumph, Aus Open boss Craig Tiley made the massive claim that Djokovic played with a 3cm tear. This sparked even more questions considering the severity of the injury Tiley claimed Djokovic played with.
Djokovic refused to go into depth about the accusations swirling around how bad his hamstring was at a press conference last week. But, the World No.1 told his supporters that he hadn't played much tennis following the first grand slam of the year.
"I did struggle for several weeks and it took me a little bit of time to get used to holding a racquet. I have't played much tennis coming into Dubai," he said.
"So I'm hoping that as the tournament progresses I can raise the level of tennis."
Novak Djokovic celebrated after World No.1 record
A presentation was held after Tuesday's match to mark Djokovic's 378th week in the ATP's top spot, surpassing Steffi Graf's 377 leading the WTA. Djokovic joked that a younger version of himself knew he would break the record, before talking about his ambitions as a kid.
"As a young boy growing up in Serbia, I dreamt of two things - winning Wimbledon and being No.1 in the world," he said. "I've been blessed to achieve both of my childhood dreams, several times," he said.
Djokovic is set to extend his record as World No.1, but is in danger of his opponents catching him if he is unable to enter the US for Indian Wells. Regardless, Djokovic is set for a full clay court campaign in 2023.
— Dubai Tennis Champs (@DDFTennis) February 28, 2023
Also on Tuesday, No.3 seed Daniil Medvedev continued his good form to beat Matteo Arnaldi 6-4, 6-2 to extend his own winning streak to 10 matches. Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime defeated Maxime Cressy 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-3, while Botic van de Zandschulp beat sixth seed Karen Khachanov 7-5, 6-2.
Aussie qualifier Chris O'Connell put in a stunning performance to set- up a clash No.7 seed Alexander Zverev after beating Finland's Emil Ruusuvuori 7-5, 6-4.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.