Dubai: It was hope, despair and revenge on the mind of Italian ace Lorenzo Musetti when the draw was announced for the 30th Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, which begins at the Tennis Stadium on Monday.
The Italian, who was present at the draw ceremony, was looking forward to this edition after receiving the wild card. Musetti made his Dubai debut in 2020 after qualifying to the main draw, but lost in the first round to Andrey Rublev.
All his enthusiasm faded when he drew top seed and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the first round of the 30th edition. As a true champion, Musetti took it in his stride and said, “I will try and avenge my loss in Roland Garros last year,” hiding his disappointment of having to face a gruelling test in his first round.
Djokovic rallied from two sets down to defeat Musetti, who retired while trailing 4-0 in the fifth of the dramatic contest due to cramps and lower back pain. The Serb, after surviving the massive fourth-round scare, went on to win his second French Open crown last year.
Top seed Djokovic could face a formidable challenge in the form of Roberto Bautista Agut, who is also in the top half of the draw, which was made at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Saturday.
Others in the same quarter of the draw as Djokovic include former US Open champion Marin Cilic and this week’s Doha semi-finalist Karen Khachanov, who Djokovic could face in the second round.
“This is the 30th year of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, and I’m happy to say that during that time we’ve had more than 21 No 1’s participate in the tournament,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “Novak Djokovic is among them, and we are delighted to welcome him to Dubai once again and wish him well as he attempts to win his 87th career title.”
McLoughlin also was pleased with the return of the fans to the tennis stadium, a welcome sign where there was none in comparison last year. “We now have 100 per cent occupancy and had fans in excess of 26,000 so far in the first week, which could break the 30,000-mark during the women’s final,” he added.
Second seed Rublev could once again face the player who defeated him in the 2021 Dubai semi-finals before going on to win the title, Aslan Karatsev, as they are both in the bottom quarter of the draw. Rublev opens with a potentially difficult match against 2020 Dubai semi-finalist Daniel Evans, while Karatsev begins the defence of his title against Mackenzie McDonald. Also in the same quarter of the draw is tournament wildcard Malek Jaziri, who in 2018 reached the semi-finals before falling to eventual champion Bautista Agut.
Felix Auger-Aliassime is seeded three and plays Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round, and he paired with sixth seed Denis Shapovalov, who starts against Marton Fucsovics. The fourth seed is Jannick Sinner, who along with Djokovic could struggle in a part of the draw that includes not only 2021 Dubai finalist Lloyd Harris and fifth seed Hubert Hurkacz
Former Dubai champion and world No 1 Andy Murray, who has also been granted a wild card, will open his campaign against a qualifier.
“Once again the draw for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is strong with four of the top 10 and eight of the top 20 competing to become the 30th anniversary champion,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “Even the top seeds face potentially difficult matches and it will be very interesting to see who emerges as the winner.”