Novak Djokovic may not have successfully defended his Mubadala World Tennis Championship title, but the world No 2 said he still got what he wanted out of his involvement in the Abu Dhabi tournament.
Djokovic completed his sixth visit to the pre-season tournament by claiming third place following his 7-5, 6-3 win over Karen Khachanov in Saturday’s play-off match. It was unfamiliar territory for the 32-year-old Serb, who had reached the final in each of his previous five MWTC campaigns, winning four times.
His only defeat came courtesy of a walkover in 2015, meaning until this year he had never lost a match on court in Abu Dhabi. That loss came at the hands of Greek world No 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas in Friday's first semi-final.
With little to play for aside from building match fitness, Saturday’s play-off took on a more relaxed approach, although there was still enough quality tennis for the crowd to enjoy.
“We did have fun, but it was a good match as well, especially the first set which was quite close,” Djokovic said. “I enjoy playing Karen, he’s good friend off the court as well. He has a powerful game and I got what I came here for: two really good matches, so I’m happy with the match play.
“Obviously [the tournament] came a little bit earlier this year for my liking in terms of the pre-season, but nevertheless I do enjoy playing in Abu Dhabi and the results I’ve had in the past confirm that. So I’m really glad I was here and hopefully I can visit again in the future.”
MWTC, which was moved to its earliest ever date this year having normally been held after Christmas, has become a regular feature of Djokovic’s preparations for a new season, and the 16-time Grand Slam champion said he plans to keep it that way.
“It’s somewhat of a tradition of mine to come to Abu Dhabi and Dubai for preparations and play the tournament here,” he said. “It’s halfway to Australia from Europe so the chances are high that I will be coming back to Abu Dhabi as long as I play professionally.
“It’s an impressive place that offers a lot of great resorts for families and this time of the year we get to spend quality family time, train well, and play high quality competitive matches. Really, it’s the best kind of package you can look for as a tennis player."
After three matches in three days, including successive contests against the top two players in the world, Khachanov has played plenty of tennis, and while the Russian world No 17 admitted to feeling the physical effects, he is pleased to get some matches under his belt.
“It was more relaxed from both of us,” he said. “But to play against Novak and Rafa, and at this event in general, is good preparation to see where my tennis is. After playing three in a row, I’m feeling a little more tired after three-and-a-half weeks of hard training, so I’ll have a day off tomorrow, but it was good to come and I really enjoyed playing some more serious matches.”