Novak Djokovic admits he needs more matches to get back to his best level amid continuing uncertainty over his schedule this season.
Djokovic suffered a surprise defeat to world No 123 Jiri Vesely in Dubai, meaning he will lose the world No 1 ranking to Daniil Medvedev on Monday.
That was Djokovic’s first tournament of the season and it is unclear where he will play next due to his inability to enter many tournaments without being vaccinated.
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He will not be able to play in either of the ATP 1000 events in Indian Wells or Miami next month.
"I'm lacking a little bit of the match play. You can see that; I'm still finding the groove on the court,” said Djokovic after his loss to Vesely.
“The more matches I play, the more comfortable I get on the court. I need the match play. I didn't have many matches at all last few months. Let's see.
"Obviously I'll have to follow the situation, see how it goes. Wherever I get an opportunity to play, I will. Hopefully that will be soon."
After two straight-set wins in Dubai, Djokovic was unable to find his best level against Vesely, who came into the tournament with a 1-5 record for the season.
Despite the loss and the uncertainty over when he can play next, Djokovic, 34, says he still remains highly motivated to continue.
“My goal is to keep on playing tennis. That's the ultimate goal. For as long as I really feel like it and as long as I can play. As long as my body allows me, as long as the circumstances in my life as well, the people that surround me [and] support me.
“I'm still motivated and I'm still p*ssed off when I lose a match. I care about it. I care about winning every match, as anybody else on the tour, regardless of the age. I'm actually glad that I'm feeling a lot of emotions every single day because it means that I really want to be part of this sport, part of the tour.
“I don't look at the age really as a restricting factor for my career. I still feel great in terms of my body and the way it's holding on, the way it's recovering. It's been serving me well, so to say. That's something that obviously encourages me to keep going.”
As well as losing the world No 1 ranking, Djokovic has seen Rafael Nadal move ahead of him in the Grand Slam race this year after he won the Australian Open.
Nadal lifted his 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne to edge one ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer.
When could Djokovic play next?
As it stands Djokovic will not play Indian Wells or the Miami Open as anyone entering the USA needs to be vaccinated, with very few exceptions.
That means he likely won’t be in action again until April and will miss out on the opportunity to gain significant ranking points from the two ATP 1000 tournaments.
Djokovic is also set to miss the Monte Carlo Masters, which is the curtain-raiser for the clay-court season on April 10, after the French government ruled that all athletes will have to be vaccinated in order to compete in sporting events in the country.
“All the big events which will take place in France will also adopt the Covid pass,” said French MP Stanislas Guerini last month.
“Who would understand if we asked our citizens to make an effort and respect the rules if we authorise some to get out of them?”
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It seems certain that Djokovic will play the Serbia Open in Belgrade on April 18, considering his brother is the tournament director and the venue is the Novak Tennis Center.
Then comes a back-to-back Masters double in Madrid and Rome.
Current rules in Spain say arrivals into the country to do not need to be vaccinated as long as they can show proof of a negative PCR test.
Djokovic has been shown on posters advertising the Madrid Open, but tournament director Feliciano Lopez said in January: “It's up to him to decide what steps he needs to take to keep playing.”
Italian Undersecretary for Sport Valentina Vezzali said recently that Djokovic would be welcomed into the country to play as tennis is “an outdoor sport and the tighter green pass is not required”.
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But she has since been contradicted by Undersecretary for Health Andrea Costa.
"I'm not convinced by the reasons Undersecretary Vezzali gave when she said Djokovic will be able to take part in the Italian Open in Rome," said Costa.
"There are rules that must be respected while they are in place. I think we must all be equal before the rules.
"Those who have a big following, who can help us with this effort, have even more reason to give a good example. So I am against the presence of Djokovic at the Italian Open in Rome".
Then it’s the French Open, which Djokovic has said he is willing to miss if it means he will not have to get vaccinated.
ATP Tour spring/summer schedule
March 10-20 - Indian Wells (US)
March 23-April 4 Miami Open (US)
April 10-17 Monte-Carlo Masters (Monaco)
April 18-24 - Serbia Open (Serbia)
May 1-8 - Madrid Masters (Spain)
May 8-15 - Rome Masters (Italy)
May 22-June 5 - Roland Garros (France)
June 27-July 10 - Wimbledon (UK)
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