Dubai: The tennis fraternity’s eyes will be rivetted to the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in the last week of December for — among other things — the much-anticipated comeback of world number four Rafael Nadal.
The Spanish ace, a holder of 11 Grand Slam titles, had been out of action with a troubled knee ever since his shock first round exit in Wimbledon last June.
In the draw released , Nadal has been given a bye along with world number one Novak Djokovic and they will be in action only on the second day of the three-day event, scheduled from December 27 to 29 at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex, Zayed Sports City, in Abu Dhabi.
“At this point, Nadal has been responding well to the rehabilitation process and it could be the first occasion where he can test his readiness for the Australian Open,” said a well-placed source among the organisers.
Nadal, who said in a recent interview that he will not rush into a comeback till he is confident about the damaged knee, has busied himself with muscle-strengthening exercises and had been updating his fans on his facebook page.
‘Un dia mas cumpliendo con el entrenamiento!’ (One more day training hard), says one of his posts with a picture of him training apart from catching up on the Davis Cup final between Spain and the Czech Republic on TV.
Andy Murray, the US Open and Olympic champion, will meanwhile return to a hero’s welcome following a three-year absence at the championship, where he will play world number nine, Janko Tipsarevic in the opening match from 5pm.
The opening match at the centre court has been scheduled for a 5pm start to suit those fans of Murray coming straight from work.
The world number three Briton, who had been in his best form this year, said: “It’s been a fantastic year, with my first Grand Slam win at the US Open and a gold medal at the Olympics but, after a few weeks’ rest, I’m looking forward to getting the new season off to a winning start in Abu Dhabi.”
Murray has a 5-3 record against Tipsarevic on the ATP tour, with a 2-1 advantage on the hard surface of the Zayed Sport City Centre Court.
Djokovic will play the winner of the Ferrer vs Berdych match in the first semi-final at 3pm on second day with Nadal taking on Murray or Tipsarevic in the second semi-final immediately afterwards. Final day starts with a third place play-off at 3pm with the final scheduled to start at 5pm.
Six of the world’s top 10 and five of the eight ATP World Tour finalists will compete in Abu Dhabi, with Murray making his only planned appearance in the UAE in the next 12 months — and Mubadala debutant Tipsarevic, world number nine, joined by defending champion Novak Djokovic, world number five David Ferrer, and world number six Tomas Berdych and Nadal.
December 27: David Ferrer vs Tomas Berdych; Andy Murray vs J. Tipsarevic (not before 5 pm)
December 28: Semifinals: N. Vjokovic vs TBD (3pm) followed by R. Nadal vs TBD
December 29: Third place play-off (3 pm) followed by final from 5 pm.