WASHINGTON: Doubt is a distant memory for Novak Djokovic as the world number one returns to Indian Wells on top of the tennis world, one year after his shock loss to qualifier Taro Daniel.
Djokovic is making his first start since winning his third Grand Slam title on the trot at the Australian Open in January.
He said he wasn’t fully recovered from elbow surgery when he opted to compete in the California desert last year, but it’s not a decision he regrets given the events that followed in 2018.
“I definitely wasn’t ready to compete at this level last year,” the Serb said Thursday as he looked forward to his title defense in the elite Masters series event.
“I was kind of convincing myself that I was, but I truly wasn’t.
“I know most of my team members at the time were against me playing in Indian Wells and Miami because it was too early after the surgery.
“I could have, should have made a different decision, but I believe it also taught me some valuable lessons that helped me to create amazing results in the next seven, eight months and get from 22 in the world to No. 1 in the world in less than six months.”
Djokovic would cement his return with a Wimbledon title and follow that with a US Open crown.
He dominated Rafael Nadal in January’s Australian Open title and must be favored for a sixth Indian Wells crown — which would see him break the record he currently shares with fourth-seeded Roger Federer.
Djokovic will open in the second round against 128th-ranked American Bjorn Fratangelo, who beat fellow qualifier Elias Ymer of Sweden 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
He could face a dangerous third-round clash with Australian Nick Kyrgios, seeded 31st, who is coming off his first title in more than a year in Acapulco last week.
Kyrgios will take on Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round after the German veteran dispatched France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4, 6-0.
Federer hails ‘wonderful’ Laver Cup addition to ATP Tour
PARIS: Roger Federer on Friday hailed the “wonderful” addition of the Laver Cup, one of three men’s tennis team events, to the official ATP calendar.
The tournament, inspired by golf’s Ryder Cup, pits teams from Europe and the ‘rest of the world’ against each other and was first held in 2017.
It will be in competition with the revamped Davis Cup and the ATP World Team Cup.
“As I come closer to the end of my playing career, it’s wonderful to know that the Laver Cup will be part of the tour that I’ve dedicated more than 20 years of my life to,” said the 37-year-old Federer in a statement after the announcement that the Laver Cup would be added to the ATP Tour.
This year’s edition will be held in Geneva from September 20-22, with Bjorn Borg’s Team Europe the defending champions after defeating the John McEnroe-led Team World in 2018 in Chicago.
World number one Novak Djokovic played in the Laver Cup last year, but has also been one of the driving forces behind bringing back the ATP World Team Cup.
“The Laver Cup is a true celebration of tennis that is loved by the fans and embraced by the players,” said the 15-time Grand Slam champion.
The inaugural Davis Cup finals — which have replaced the World Group after funding from Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique’s investment company Kosmos — will be held in November in Madrid, while Sydney will host the first World Team Cup finals next year.
South Africa unveil England cricket tour dates
JOHANNESBURG: South Africa on Friday announced the dates for a tour by England which will include four Tests, three one-day internationals and three Twenty20 internationals.
The Test series will start in Centurion on December 26, followed by South Africa’s traditional New Year Test at Newlands in Cape Town, starting on January 3.
The remaining Tests will be in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
England will play two warm-up matches before the Tests, a two-day game against an Invitation XI and a three-day match against South Africa A. Both fixtures will be in Benoni.
Cricket South Africa chief executive Thabang Moroe said the series would have special significance, “as this will be our first home series in the ICC World Test championship following our away series in India in October.”
South Africa will also host Australia for three Twenty20 internationals and three one-day internationals, starting five days after England’s final fixture on February 16.
Ahead of women’s World Cup, female fans struggle in Middle East
DUBAI: Two weeks ahead of a potentially game-changing women’s World Cup, football remains completely male-dominated in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa, where female fans are still battling for a level playing field.
Women fans face obstacles in many parts of the region where rival powers Iran and Saudi Arabia have traditionally enforced rules banning women from entering stadiums.
No countries from the region will be among the 24 teams taking part in the tournament in France from June 7, but at least there are signs of flexibility in the region toward a sport igniting more and more female interest across the globe.
In Iran, rules have been relaxed since the 1979 Islamic revolution and women are selectively allowed to attend some matches.
But the fact that a ban has yet to be officially lifted indicates there is still disagreement over the issue among senior figures in the Islamic republic.
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia allowed women into a football stadium for the first time in January 2018 for a regular domestic football league match.
The move was part of reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that included allowing women to drive and take part in other sporting and artistic events.