Tennis: Novak Djokovic commits to Tel Aviv Watergen Open

Serbian icon joins Thiem and other top-ranked tennis stars to travel to Israel in September for tournament.

 NOVAK DJOKOVIC is not playing in the ongoing US Open due to his COVID-19 unvaccinated status. But the Serb is slated to play next month in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS)
NOVAK DJOKOVIC is not playing in the ongoing US Open due to his COVID-19 unvaccinated status. But the Serb is slated to play next month in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic made it official this week that he will travel to Israel to compete in the ATP 250 series Tel Aviv Watergen Open in September.

Djokovic, the former world No. 1 and 21-time Grand Slam winner, will take part in the tournament that will be held at the Tel Aviv Expo complex from September 25 to October 2.

The 35-year-old is widely considered among the best players of all time and holds multiple records, including holding the No. 1 ranking for the longest period (373 weeks) and the most number of seasons in which he finished the year as the world’s top player (seven times).

"We are happy and excited to host one of the greatest tennis players in history, Novak Djokovic, at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open 2022 tournament and look forward to enjoying his impressive playing skills here in Israel," said Watergen President Michael Mirilashvili.

Former US Open champion Dominic Thiem, from Austria, previously confirmed his intention to participate in Tel Aviv. Jewish-Argentine Diego Schwartzman and Croatian Marin Cilic are also planning on taking part.

The arrival of these stars comes during an already exciting September for tennis in Israel and the Watergen Open will take place two weeks after Israel hosts the Davis Cup tied versus the Czech Republic on September 16-17.

The Tel Aviv tournament returns to Israel after a 26-year hiatus.  That original tournament was inaugurated in 1978 and was held yearly until 1981, took a break in 1982 and was again played yearly from 1983 to 1996.  The tournament stopped happening due to loss of funding and explosion of tennis tournaments, but was set to resume in 2014 before being canceled due to security concerns surrounding the Gaza-Israel conflict.  American player Jimmy Connors won the event in 1989 when he beat Gilad Bloom in the final.  The tournament holds the record for having the youngest winner of an ATP event when Aaron Krickstein won the tournament at age 16 in 1983 at the age of 16.

The new tournament is back in Tel Aviv 26 years later thanks to an opening in the calendar caused by the cancellation through COVID-19 of the Zhuhai Championships ATP 250 event in China. Major funding by Watergen and its owner, entrepreneur Mirilashvili, brought the event to Tel Aviv.

Novak Djokovic: No stranger to Israel

Djokovic is no stranger to Israel, having visited in 2006 to receive treatment from physiotherapist Rafi Virshuvski.

He has visited on other occasions and was quoted as saying: "I played here with Serbia in the Davis cup, but we didn't have time to travel. This time I did some traveling in my three days here, you have an incredible country.

"I got to know it a little bit now and discovered there is plenty more to see. I was in Jerusalem in all the holy places. It was an amazing experience. As a religious man, a Christian, I feel obligated to come here at least one more time to see and experience the fantastic holy land, to pray and see where Jesus was crucified, where he was, where he was buried."

Thiem is also no stranger to Israel.  He played here at age 16 as a junior as well as in more recent years.  

“I've been to Eilat and Tel Aviv for Futures quite a lot of times," the Austrian told The Jerusalem Post. "I really enjoy the country, especially Tel Aviv. It's a very lively and nice city with great, great restaurants, great food, good lifestyle.  I'm really happy to be back there soon. Hopefully, it's going to be a great tournament there.”