Novak Djokovic’s first defeat of 2023 could be hugely significant for the tennis year

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic has enjoyed a sparkling start to 2023, but his first defeat against Daniil Medvedev answered plenty of questions.

Medvedev’s convincing 6-4 6-4 win against Djokovic in the Dubai Duty Free Championships was one of the rare occasions when the Serbian superstar was hit off the court by an opponent.

And he will be aware that the re-emergence of Medvedev could have a big impact on the rest of this tennis year.

Djokovic, who was on a 20-match winning streak heading into this content, has a mental hold on most of his rivals.

Yet Medvedev is one of the few players who believes he can beat Djokovic when it matters most and he did so again to set up a final against his compatriot Andrey Rublev.

After his win against the world No 1 in the 2021 US Open Final, Medvedev lost his way in the second half of last season as he struggled to find wins in big tournaments.

Yet he has burst back into top form in recent weeks and has backed up his win against Andy Murray in the final of the Qatar Open last week with another big victory against Djokovic.

Djokovic will have been relieved to see Medvedev slipping heading into this tennis year, but the Russian was in bullish mood after a big victory sent him into the Duabi final for the first time.

“When you play against Novak you have to play your best and hope he is not at his best,” declared Medvedev, who won a 13th match in a row.

“He has 22 Grand Slams even if you play your best it will be tough and you might now win. That is the way tennis is sometimes.

“I was happy to play at a higher level than him today. I managed to keep composed and I’m very happy to be in the final.

“Physically it was tough. It was more humid today and I always have tough battles with Novak.

“I’m playing good now. Now I know Andrey (Rublev) is in good form and he will be tough to beat in the final.”

Djokovic’s Dubai exit could be the last time we see the Serbian superstar on a court for a few weeks.

He looks set to miss the Indian Wells and Miami ATP 1000 events due to American restrictions on visitors who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19.

That could mean Djokovic loses the world No 1 ranking before his next potential appearance on clay courts in April.

He will know that success on clay courts should allow him to reclaim the top spot in the ATP rankings, but his biggest concern may be the return to form of Medvedev.

The unofficial UTR rankings suggested Medvedev was the second best player in the world heading into this week’s event in Dubai and this result appears to back up that assessment.