Malek Jaziri could not believe his luck after drawing world No 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday.
Moments prior to the official draw, the Tunisian tempted fate by saying: “Hopefully this year the draw will be good for me. Usually, I always play the top-seeded players here.”
Indeed, Jaziri, who has been handed a wildcard by tournament organisers, has in seven past visits to Dubai faced in the first or second round Roger Federer, Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Grigor Dimitrov – all top seeds at the time.
Cue collective laughter and disbelief around the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium majlis when Jaziri’s was the first name out of the hat to face none other than reigning Australian Open champion Djokovic.
“You have to smile,” said Jaziri, who in 2018 reached the Dubai semi-finals but has seen his ranking plummet to No 259 due to injury. “Everything starts with a smile: you smile at life, life will smile at you.
“It is a great opportunity for me to play Novak, I don’t look at it in a bad way. I know it will be tough match. I am reconstructing my game, because last season I was injured a lot, so I am thankful to Dubai Duty Free for the wildcard.
“I am happy to be back in Dubai to compete at this high level. The match will for sure be tough. He is full of confidence; he is playing his best tennis. I am not playing at my best, but I am playing much better every week. Hopefully, I can have a good tournament.”
Also present at the draw ceremony was British No 1 Dan Evans, who will face a stern test in the opening round when he takes on Italian fourth seed Fabio Fognini.
Ranked a career high No 31, Evans has had an encouraging start to the season with three wins over top 20 players. He will view his first-round assignment as a great opportunity to add a fourth, given Fognini is yet to hit the heights that led him to the Monte Carlo Masters title last year.
“I’m just trying to win the right matches, work hard on my game and try to go out on court on a match day and put all that practice into the matches,” Evans said . “I just want to carry on playing, stay healthy and enjoy myself out on the tour.”
Other notable first-round matches will see second seed and last year’s finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas face Spanish world No 27 Pablo Carreno Busta, third seed Gael Monfils play Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, and eighth seed Benoit Paire take on former world No 3 Marin Cilic.