World No. 1 Novak Djokovic kicked off his 2022 campaign at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday, winning his opener against Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.
Djokovic entered the tournament as the top favorite to clinch the title. BetUS sportsbook cast the Serbian starlet as the short-odds-on-favorite at -165 in pre-tournament tennis betting online markets. After the sublime Round of 32 wins, dispelling any concern about his form (or lack thereof in the absence of competitive matches this year), Djokovic’s odds only shortened further.
Djokovic is making his first ATP appearance since the fracas surrounding his attempt to compete at the Australian Open last month caused an almighty uproar Down Under and made international tennis headlines. Understandably, Djokovic was delighted to win his first match of the year. He was also delighted by the reception he received from fans in the Arabian Gulf state, tweeting “ I couldn’t have asked for a better reception back on court.”
📸: Karim Sahib pic.twitter.com/fEhcyYBCfD
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) February 21, 2022
Djokovic is faced with limited opportunities to compete in tournaments due to his unvaccinated status. The Covid-19 restrictions currently in place around the world prevent the Serbian from traveling to some of the most sought-after destinations on the ATP calendar, including the United States where travelers are expected to be double-vaccinated in order to gain entry.
Although there are signs that some of these restrictions might be easing down the road, the 34-year-old isn’t looking too far ahead. He’s keen to maximize the opportunities that are before him now, beginning with the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Dubai Open Futures Odds
The field that has assembled for the Dubai Open is somewhat watered down with many of the Top 10 players choosing to go to the Abierto Mexicano Telcel instead – in fact, five of the top-six players are in Acapulco and undertaking their preparations for next month when the first ATP Masters 1000 event of the season gets underway at Indian Wells.
The BNP Paribas in Indian Wells is quickly followed by the second Masters on the ATP calendar in Miami. Both of these events are closed to Djokovic at the moment due to his vaccine hesitancy.
Russia’s Andrey Rublev is the second seed in Dubai. Felix Auger-Aliassime was expected to be the third seed, but the Canadian withdrew from Dubai with a back injury. Italy’s Jannik Sinner rounds out the top four seeds.
Other notable tennis personalities that arrived in Dubai this week were Hubert Hurkacz, Denis Shapovalov, Aslan Karatsev, Roberto Bautista Agut, and Karen Khachanov. Karatsev proved to be the first top casualty of the tournament as he was upset in the first round by Mackenzie McDonald 7-5, 6-3.
Andy Murray is also making an appearance in Dubai this week after receiving a wild card. Murray is through to the second round following a hard-fought win over Australia’s Christopher O’Connell 6-7 (4), 6-3, 7-5.
Dubai Open Pre-Tournament Futures Overview
As per the tennis odds at the start of the tournament, Sinner entered the tournament as the second-best bet after Djokovic (-165) to win the title. However, with odds as long as +750 to accomplish the feat, it would appear that the Italian is more of a longshot than his status as the second-best bet would suggest.
Rublev came in as the bookmakers’ third choice with odds of +900, but the market almost doubled after that with Hurkacz priced at +1600 rounding out the top four bets. After which, Shapovalov (+2500), Agut (+2800), and Khachanov (+3300) were deemed as semi-legitimate contenders. In the meanwhile, Murray is priced at +4000 to win the title in Dubai
Can Anyone Upset Djokovic?
Next up for the Serbian is a date with Russia’s Khachanov. This pair will decide their second-round encounter on Wednesday morning (not before 7 a.m. ET).
Khachanov is expected to be a tough test, but the Serbian has a 4-1 head-to-head edge over Khachanov, which includes three straight wins since 2019. Djokovic won both of their matches in 2020 without dropping a set. He beat Khachanov at the 2020 Dubai Open in the quarterfinals, 6-2, 6-2, and at the 2020 Roland Garros 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
After the quarterfinals, Djokovic could face Roberto Batista Agut or Jiri Vesely – both players have had limited success against the Serbian. Agut trails 9-3 lifetime against Djokovic. He last beat the world No.1 at the 2019 Miami Masters in three sets, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3. The veteran Spaniard has given Djokovic a run for his money in most of their contests but, clearly, wins are few and far between.
Vesely stunned Djokovic at the 2016 ATP Masters in Monte Carlo and, as a result, he holds the 1-0 edge lifetime. Six years on, the Czech will be hard-pressed to repeat that result should the opportunity present itself, especially on a hardcourt where Djokovic is arguably one of the best.
The best chance for the upset will be in the final where one of several standouts in the second half of the draw might emerge. Indeed, the second half of the draw is loaded with in-form players and dangerous floaters.
Shapovalov is one such player that could shake up the draw, along with Filip Krajinovic or Murray. That said, one can’t dismiss the fact that either Rublev or Sinner might come through on the high expectations placed on them.
Both are in form and brimming with confidence right now after solid starts to their seasons. Thus, they’re the second and third best bets for good reason, not to mention potential value plays in the tournament after Djokovic.