Dubai: World No.1 Novak Djokovic and defending champion Roger Federer will not have it all their own way at the Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open, which begins on Monday.
Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are among those hoping to stop the top two in their tracks.
Federer will begin his bid for a record sixth title at 7pm on Monday by taking on Tunisian Malek Jaziri, one of three players given a wild card by tournament owners and organisers, Dubai Duty Free.
Top seed Djokovic will begin his campaign on Tuesday, when he faces fellow Serb, Viktor Troicki. “It’s always tough playing Viktor as we are such close friends. But once you are on court then you’ve got to just shut out things and go and play,” Djokovic said.
Incidentally, Troicki defeated the now world number one when they first met in 2007. But Djokovic has more than avenged that defeat by winning all their 12 encounters since.
Third seed Tomas Berdych, who was playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Marseille Open final on Sunday night – will face a wild card in the form of American Rajeev Ram.
Juan Martin Del Potro, who went on to win the Rotterdam Open a couple of weeks back after beating Julien Benneteau in the final, faces arguably the most difficult challenge of the top seeds in the opening round as he takes on the colourful Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
Tsonga is another huge favourite with the Dubai crowd, and he will definitely be one to watch as he lines up against fellow Frenchman Michael Llodra on Tuesday.
Another Serb, Janko Tipsarevic, has already won a title this year after triumphing in Chennai, and the sixth seed will begin his quest for a second against the experienced Nikolay Davydenko. Meanwhile, seventh seed Andreas Seppi faces Paul-Henri Mathieu in the tournament’s first match at 2pm on Monday, after which number eight seed and two-time Dubai finalist Mikhail Youzhny will take on Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia.
Yesterday, the qualifiers’ top seed Daniel Brands and seventh seed Florent Serra were joined by unseeded Matteo Viola and Igor Kunitsyn in the main draw of the tournament.
Brands was pushed to the limit before the German eked out a tight 7-6, 7-6 win over Swiss Davis Cup star and Dubai regular Marco Chiudinelli.
The 31-year-old Frenchman Serra, who rose to No.36 way back in 2006, was one of the cleanest winners among the four qualifiers with a 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Spaniard Carlos Herrera-Gomez, while Italian Viola overcame a late challenge from German second seed Mattias Bachinger to win 6-4, 7-5 and book his place in the main draw.
The last one of the qualifiers came from the bottom of the draw when Russia’s Kunitsyn advanced when Ukrainian Ivan Sergeyev withdrew with an injury. Kunitsyn was leading 2-6, 6-4, 4-0 when Sergeyev announced his withdrawal.
The main draw of the competition will get under way at 2pm on Monday.