Novak Djokovic’s ‘habibi friend’ Malek Jaziri retires with Dubai loss

Malek Jaziri’s 20-year career drew to a close on Monday as the former world No 42 lost his opening match in Dubai 6-2 6-0 to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. The 39-year-old received a wildcard into the tournament for his last dance and Novak Djokovic has opened up on their relationship as he paid tribute to the Tunisian and his career.

Jaziri hung up his racket following a straight-set defeat to Davidovich Fokina after one last hurrah in Dubai where he received a wildcard into the ATP 500 event for his farewell. The Tunisian had cemented himself as one of the ATP Tour’s most successful Arab and North African players in recent years, reaching a career-high of No 42 in 2019 and earning wins over the likes of Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Ahead of his farewell, Djokovic paid tribute to the man he counted as a friend on the tour, telling Arab News: “He is my ‘habibi friend’, I always called him that.” The world No 1 was happy to see him receive a wildcard for one last dance in Dubai, where Jaziri had previously made the semi-final in 2018 by beating Tsitsipas and Grigor Dimitrov en route.

“He’s a fantastic guy, I like him a lot,” the top seed in Dubai continued. “I saw that he got a wildcard here, so it’s his last dance in this tournament, which is nice, because he had some big wins actually on this court in his career.

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“He was one of the most important players coming from the Arab region in the past 10, 15 years. So it’s great that he got the wildcard. It’s very nice of the tournament to give him this last opportunity in a way, to say goodbye.”

Jaziri has already started his post-playing career too, as he currently coaches Canadian Vasek Pospisil – another one of Djokovic’s friends who co-founded the Professional Tennis Players Association with the Serb – and is the Tunisian Davis Cup captain. And Djokovic was excited to see what the Tunisian would do in the future.

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He added: “I know he is going to find himself a great role in tennis in a different manner after his tennis career. I look forward to watching him this week in Dubai. Hopefully he can put on a good quality match and a good show.”

But it was a short-lived farewell for the 39-year-old, who was dispatched in the opening round in 50 minutes. Jaziri waved farewell to the crowd and touched his heart as he departed one final time “It’s not easy to play the last match of one player. It’s a little bit sad,” Davidovich Fokina told the Dubai crowd after the match.

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