Djokovic pays tribute to ‘habibi friend’ Jaziri as Tunisian’s career reaches end

Novak Djokovic has paid tribute to Tunisian Malek Jaziri, who will draw the curtain on his two-decade professional tennis career with one last hurrah in Dubai this week.

At 39, Jaziri walks away as one of the most influential players from Tunisia, North Africa and the Arab world in the last 15 years.

“He is my ‘habibi friend’, I always called him that,” world No.1 Djokovic told Arab News in Dubai on Sunday.

“He’s a fantastic guy, I like him a lot. 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.

“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 made moves in his post-playing career and is the current coach of Canadian veteran Vasek Pospisil and the captain of Tunisia’s Davis Cup team.

“I know he is going to find himself a great role in tennis in a different manner after his tennis career,” added Djokovic.

“I look forward to watching him this week in Dubai. Hopefully he can put on a good quality match and a good show.”

Jaziri will take on Spanish world No. 31 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the first round on Monday, which could be the very last match of his professional career.

It is his 10th main draw appearance in Dubai and he’ll be looking to draw on some of his fondest memories at the tournament, where he led Roger Federer by a set and also faced the likes of Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Jaziri was a late bloomer and reached a career-high world ranking of 42 when he was 35 years old.

The Bizerte native represented Tunisia in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. He made his David Cup debut in 2000 and has amassed a 52-32 win-loss record.

His best Grand Slam results came at the Australian Open, where he reached the third round in singles in 2015 and 2017, and he also made the US Open semi-finals in doubles in 2018.

On the ATP tour, Jaziri was a finalist at the 250 event in Istanbul in 2018, the same year he enjoyed his best Dubai run, making the semis with impressive wins over the likes of Grigor Dimitrov and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

He flew the flag for Arab and North African tennis for nearly 20 years and helped fill the void that came when Morocco’s star trio Younes El-Aynaoui, Hicham Arazi and Karim Alami retired.

Jaziri has earned more than $4 million in prizes across singles and doubles and has a 104-144 win-loss record at tour level heading into his final tournament.