Dominic Thiem.
Top seed Dominic Thiem is in line to be the first Austrian since Thomas Muster in 1997 to win the men's title in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Top seed Dominic Thiem could well be the first Austrian to win the men’s crown in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship since Thomas Muster in 1997, given the form that he is in and the withdrawal of eight-time champion Roger Federer at the last moment.

The 2020 US Open champion, who could well be in line for a final with Spanish warrior Roberto Bautista Agut, has a first round bye in the 29th edition of the ATP week which starts at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Sunday. A 2018 winner in Dubai, Bautista Agut will start as a leading favourite for the title after not only beating Thiem in Dubai earlier in 2015, but this week’s number two seed Andrey Rublev in straight sets to reach Saturday night’s final against Nikoloz Basilashvili in Doha.

Rublev, meanwhile, will be seeking some court time he failed to get in Doha where he received a first round bye and then two walkovers into the semi-finals before falling to Bautista Agut.

Thiem will face one of two qualifiers from round one and second seeded Rublev will also start against a qualifier or Jordan Thompson. Third seed Denis Shapovalov will play either a qualifier or Jan-Lennard Struff and fourth-seeded Bautista Agut begins against Matthew Ebden in the second round after his opponent received a special exempt into the second round upon reaching the semi-finals in Marseilles. ‘Special exempt’ status is given to players who have been so successful at one event that they would then have difficulty reaching their next tournament in time to compete in the first round.

A player for the big occasion, Thiem - billed as one of the contenders to take over the mantle of the ‘Big Three,’ has reached the finals of the 2018 and 2019 French Open and the Australian Open in 2020, and along with his triumph in New York, he has also reached the final of the ATP Tour Finals in the past two seasons.

However, the Austrian has some catching up to do in Dubai where in his only previous appearance in 2015, he fell in the first round to Bautista Agut. He will be wary of meeting the Spaniard again after the same player upset him just days ago in the Doha quarter finals. The draw, which pits Thiem and Bautista-Agut in either half, means they would meet in Saturday’s final.

Meanwhile, Stan Wawrinka, the 2016 Dubai champion who was at the official player’s draw, has withdrawn from the tournament due to fatigue.

“There were many thrilling battles throughout the WTA event during the past week and now we can look forward to further exciting encounters as the 29th staging of the ATP tournament gets underway,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We wish all the players well and look forward to seeing who will emerge as our 2021 champion.”

“We anticipate another excellent week with a number of players who are worthy of winning such a prestigious title,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak.

“We have given wild cards this week to Denis Novak, who recently reached the quarter-finals in Montpellier, to Malek Jaziri who made a fantastic run to the semi-finals in 2018, to Aslan Karatsev, who at the recent Australian Open and as a qualifier became the first player in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals of their debut Grand Slam, and finally to former Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships ballboy Alexei Popyrin, who last month won the first title of his career in Singapore.”