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September 23, 2017

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Tennis stars ready for game, set, much fun

TAIPEI--World No. 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 12 Nicolas Almagro said Friday they were ready to present a world-class combination of professional tennis and entertainment in their exhibition match in Taiwan today.

On their first trip to the country, the tennis stars promised to "do something funny" during the match to thank local fans for their ongoing warm welcome since their arrival in the country.

"After being tired and traveling for a long time, it was very nice to see people who appreciated that we are coming," said Djokovic, the former world No. 1, referring to about 50 fans who greeted the duo at 6:30 a.m. at the airport.

Both players also showed their humorous sides at a press conference Friday before the match, trying to say "I love you" and "I am cute" in Mandarin Chinese.

Admitting that he had forgotten all the Chinese phrases he learned on the flight to Taiwan, Djokovic said he will be prepared to showcase his language skills during the match at National Taiwan Sport University in Linkou, New Taipei, this afternoon.

The Serb, who performed an off-key version of the pop song "Call Me Maybe" at the U.S. Open, also promised to sing on court if the mood is right.

His first choice will be Korean rapper PSY's global hit "Gangnam Style," but Djokovic said he would also love to learn traditional Taiwanese songs from the audience.

Not to be outshined by the runner-up at the just concluded U.S. Open, Almagro said he wouldn't mind dancing when Djokovic sings during their showdown.

"I will try to play without clothes," the Spaniard also joked.

The event's promoter, however, was not in a laughing mood as ticket sales have been slow so far. Only about half of the available 10,000 tickets have been sold, said Jay Ching, general manager of the event's promoter, Yu-Tsai International Marketing Inc.

An exhibition match between Spaniards Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer organized by the promoter last year was a disappointment, drawing a crowd of roughly 4,000 people at the cavernous Linkou arena, and Yu-Tsai was hoping to do better with Djokovic and Almagro.

"The tickets are simply too expensive," complained tennis fan Hsiao Yu-feng, referring to the ticket prices ranging from NT$1,800 (US$61) to NT$8,800 for the Djokovic-Almagro match.

Still, the 20-year-old fan, who hosts a Facebook fan page for Djokovic, said she will be sitting in the front row and hopefully have some good laughs at the exhibition.

After their stay in Taiwan, five-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic will go to Beijing to compete in the China Open, while Almagro will play in the Rakuten Open in Japan.

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