All of the meetings between these two players have gone Djokovic’s way; the world no. 2 leads the head-to-head 4-0 after victories at the Australian Open in 2010, Miami in 2011 and Montreal in 2013.
Istomin, ranked 54th in the world, did take a set in that Montreal meeting after winning just five games in their first two encounters and played Djokovic close at the end of their most recent match, although that had plenty to do with a lapse of concentration on Djokovic’s part. Istomin doesn’t lack for talent and has two ATP World Tour career titles (New Haven 2010 and San Jose 2012); he has reached two quarter-finals already in 2014 at Sydney, losing to Tursunov, and Montpellier, losing to Monfils.
Djokovic has been out of action since his shock defeat in the quarter-final of the Australian Open to Stanislas Wawrinka – a loss that looks better since Wawrinka went on to win the title, of course – and spoke about how his time off from playing tournaments has helped him.
"In the last three weeks after the Australian Open I’ve done a lot of things and been to places that I haven’t visited since childhood," he said.
"I reconnected with a period of growing up and spent time with family. It’s something that has given me a lot of food for my soul and a lot of life energy that I can hopefully transfer on to the court.
"I miss competition and I miss playing matches and I can’t wait to get back out on court. It’s still only the beginning of the season and I’m still running on the confidence I have from the end of last year."
Djokovic has never failed to reach at least the quarter-finals of Dubai, where he has won the title four times. He will need to adjust quickly to match-play once again, but certainly should be energized from his break. Expect him to progress to the second round without any drama.