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Djokovic says Zverev punishment ‘correct’

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Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates after winning against Karen Khachanov during their ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis match in the Gulf emirate of Dubai on Wednesday. AFP

Djokovic says Zverev punishment ‘correct’

Novak Djokovic has deemed the tour’s decision to disqualify Alexander Zverev from the Acapulco tournament as “correct” while Andy Murray described the German’s racquet-smashing spree as “dangerous” and “reckless”.

Djokovic, playing his first tournament since his deportation from Australia, continued his fight to keep his No1 ranking with a convincing 6-3, 7-6 (7/2) victory over Karen Khachanov in Dubai to move into his 10th consecutive quarter-final on Wednesday.

The Serb later weighed in on Zverev’s violent behaviour towards a chair umpire that got him kicked out of the ATP event in Acapulco.

Zverev went on a tirade over a disputed call during his doubles opener alongside Marcelo Melo, verbally abusing the official and repeatedly hitting the umpire’s chair with his racquet at the end of the match.

The ATP tour announced that Zverev had been “withdrawn” from the tournament “due to unsportsmanlike conduct” and the world No3 will not be able to defend his singles title in Acapulco.

Zverev later issued a statement regretting his behaviour and apologised to the official for his “wrong and unacceptable” outburst.

Djokovic, who was disqualified from the US Open in 2020 for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball, said he expects 24-year-old Zverev to reflect on what he has done.

“I think he said it all in that statement. He realises that it was a mistake. I understand the frustration. Sometimes on the court you feel in the heat of the battle lots of different emotions,” said Djokovic.

“I made mistakes in the past where I’ve had tantrums on the court. I understand what the player is going through. But, of course, I do not justify his actions. He has, with the words that he had in the statement, handled it in a right way.”

The ATP has yet to reveal the extent of the fine Zverev will no doubt be handed, and it is unclear whether a suspension is on the table.

Djokovic firmly stated he would never encourage the tour to hand out harsh sanctions against a player and said there were many others who have committed similar offences.

“I’m never going to encourage ATP disqualifying or fining a player because I’m not in a position to do that. Why would I do that?,” said the 20-time major winner.

Battle for No1 continues

Djokovic must at least reach the semi-finals in Dubai to stand a chance of stopping Daniil Medvedev from replacing him at the summit of the rankings.

Medvedev is competing in Acapulco this week and is guaranteed to end Djokovic’s world No1 one reign if he clinches the title.

There are other scenarios however that could allow Djokovic to extend his 361-week stay at the top, should Medvedev falter in Mexico, but the Serb must at least make it to the final four in Dubai.

Djokovic followed up his opening round win over Lorenzo Musetti with a fifth victory in six meetings with Russian world number 26 Khachanov.

The five-time Dubai champion needed one hour 38 minutes to overcome Khachanov and set up a quarter-final against Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely, who knocked out Spanish eighth seed and last week’s Doha champion Roberto Bautista Agut.

“I thought the atmosphere tonight in the stadium was terrific,” Djokovic told a capacity crowd in Dubai that included his son Stefan and his former coach Boris Becker.

Earlier, Jannik Sinner stopped Murray from joining the 700 match-wins club as the Italian fourth seed advanced to the Dubai quarter-finals for a second consecutive year with a 7-5, 6-2 success over the former world No1.

The 20-year-old Italian has improved his 2022 record to an impressive 9-1 and next takes on fifth seed Hubert Hurkacz.

Murray was asked about Zverev’s ejection from Acapulco and did not hold back in assessing the situation.

“It was dangerous, reckless,” Murray said after his loss.

“I’ve not always acted in the way I would want on the tennis court. I’m certainly not claiming to be an angel,” added the Scot, who received a code violation for racquet abuse on Wednesday.

“However, when you’re ripping your tennis racquet right next to the umpire multiple times, yeah, you can’t be doing that.”

Second-seeded Andrey Rublev, a champion in Marseille last Sunday, picked up a sixth consecutive victory with a battling 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 performance against South Korea’s Kwon Soon-woo to reach his third ATP quarter-final in as many weeks.

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