Novak Djokovic’s second round opponent in Dubai will be world No. 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 No. 1, 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 No. 1 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 owe a lot to the Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“These three players, Roger, Novak and Rafa, they are the ones who changed tennis. Because of them 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, I think I win a lot because of them.”