DOHA: Novak Djokovic will start the 2015 ATP World tour season by playing doubles to determine whether he is fit enough to begin the new year with a bid for a 49th career title.
Doubts were cast over the world number one’s ability to make a prompt start to what could be a history-making year by the fever which caused his withdrawal from the final of the Abu Dhabi exhibition on Saturday.
Djokovic was nevertheless well enough to travel to Doha, and although he declined to do a press conference on Sunday, he expects to make an exploratory start on Monday, in partnership with young compatriot Filip Krajinovic.
If that goes well, Djokovic would begin an attempt to succeed title-holder Rafael Nadal with a debut match in the Qatar Open against another fellow Serb Dusan Lajovic on Tuesday.
If he competes it will be only the third time that Djokovic has competed in the opening week of a season.
And there are significant advantages for the seven-time Grand Slam winner to try to do this.
Not only might it aid his preparation for a bid to regain the Australian Open title starting in Melbourne in two weeks’ time, it might even boost a belief that he can complete a career Grand Slam in Paris in June.
The French Open is the only Grand Slam title to have eluded Djokovic, 27, and if he were to win a final next Saturday against Nadal, even on a different hard court surface, it would do no harm to his hopes of beating the nine-times champion on the Roland Garros clay.
However the chances of Djokovic actually meeting Nadal on Saturday may not be as strong as they appear.
Nadal, the holder of 14 Grand Slam titles, sounded unusually downbeat about his ability to quickly recover from an appendix operation, and perhaps also worries about a troublesome back.
Nadal looked rusty as he fell 6-2, 6-0 to Andy Murray in the Abu Dhabi semi-finals on Friday before beating Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the third-place playoff.
Asked whether the result was important to him this week, Nadal said philosophically: “The result is sport, the result is life.”
“The more matches I can play the better for my health,” he said. “If I am able to win a couple of matches it will be fantastic. If not, I am ready to accept everything, and that I will need to take time.
“I hope to be competitive soon. It’s not an ideal situation in which to be trying to win a title again. If I can win a couple of matches, maybe the feeling will be different for me.”
It may help Nadal that his first match is against a qualifier and his first significant test may not come until Thursday when he could play Leonardo Mayer, the eighth-seeded Argentine, or Andreas Seppi, the talented Italian.
If he does reach Friday’s semi-finals he could play either Richard Gasquet, the Frenchman who won the Doha title two years ago, or Tomas Berdych, the third-seeded former Wimbledon finalist from the Czech Republic.
Djokovic and Krajinovic will play their first round doubles match on Monday against Jabor Ali Mutawa of Qatar and Melak Jaziri of Tunisia.
Djokovic’s first round singles, against Lajovic, would be pitting him against the world number 69.