For the second straight week, Novak Djokovic is making a debut appearance at a tournament. And just like in Tel Aviv, the 21-time Grand Slam winner is enjoying his time at the Astana Open. Djokovic continues his quest for consecutive ATP Tour titles when he meets Karen Khachanov in Friday’s night session in the Kazakh capital.
When Djokovic featured in Israel — he claimed the title Sunday by downing Marin Cilic at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open — it was his first time playing in the country after a gap of about 16 years. In contrast, it has only been three years since he was last in Kazakhstan, where the Serb contested an exhibition match in the Kazakhstani capital against Rafael Nadal in October 2019.
“Last time I was in Kazakhstan it was only 24 hours, so I didn’t really have too much time to go around,” Djokovic said after his first-round 6-1, 6-1 win over Cristian Garin at the National Tennis Centre. “This time, hopefully a full week.
“People are very friendly to me, and I feel the positive energy from the people, so of course when you are in this kind of environment, you get more motivation and you get inspired to play good tennis, and that’s why I’m here.”
Djokovic’s schedule means sightseeing opportunities might still be limited. If he is to land a 90th tour level crown, the 35-year-old will have to play matches on five consecutive days in Astana. He has taken walks in a park near the National Tennis Centre, however.
“I really enjoyed it. It’s really nice,” said Djokovic. “I’m positively impressed with the amount of support, really. Not just for me but generally for the players and how much they know tennis. It is very impressive to see, their knowledge in general and the passion for tennis from the people of Kazakhstan.”
This year marks the third season of the Astana event on the ATP Tour and the first since it was bumped up to the ATP 500 category. Yet Djokovic noted that the field assembled — entrants also included the likes of Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas — made it feel like an ATP Masters 1000.
“The organization is very well done,” said Djokovic. “I have spoken to several players, and they all have good things to say so far about the tournament.”
He is friends with the president of Kazakhstan’s tennis federation, Bulat Utemuratov, and this week visited a center for autism in Astana, one of the projects run by Utemuratov’s foundation. Under Utemuratov, who is also a vice-president at the ITF, Kazakhstan has emerged as a presence in global tennis.
“I saw a little video presentation of all the things his foundation is doing in Kazakhstan,” said Djokovic, whose own Novak Djokovic Foundation helps children. “And it’s really impressive. It’s amazing to have a person like that who is successful and who could of course always do something different or some other sport, but he chose to support tennis, so of course for me it’s wonderful.”