Novak Djokovic is the favourite in Dubai
Novak Djokovic is the favourite in Dubai Image Credit: DDFTC

Dubai: The men’s draw for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships threw up quite a few tough encounters with top seed and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic squaring off against the Arab region’s second best player and world No. 259 Malek Jaziri for only the second time in their careers.

Dubai favourite Roger Federer will not be travelling to defend his title here due to a surgery on his right knee last Wednesday. The main draw for the competition of the 28th edition of the Dubai Men’s Open was held in the presence of Colm McLoughlin, Executive vice-chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, along with Ramesh Cidambi, COO, Dubai Duty Free, and other officials on Saturday.

Malek Jaziri. Image Credit: Imaginechina/REX/Shutterstock

The first time Djokovic and Jaziri played each other was four years ago at this same tournament with the current world No. 1 easing through 6-1, 6-2 in their round-of-16 match. “I would rather look at the positive of playing against such a tough opponent like Novak,” Jaziri, one of the three wild cards here, told media later.

Second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas — runner-up to Federer last year — is holding up the lower end of the draw with his first-round match against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta. Third seed Gael Monfils, who has been in Dubai for over a week now, has been drawn to play Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, while fourth seed Fabio Fognini of Italy will take on Great Britain’s No. 1 player, Dan Evans — who currently enjoys his best-ever career ranking of No. 31.

Stefanos Tsitsipas 7
Stefanos Tsitsipas was runner-up to Roger Federer last year in Dubai

“The idea at the moment is to just continue on the same path and the results and rankings will follow,” Evans said.

“I’ve got to win all the matches I play. And besides that I need to carry on playing, stay healthy and enjoy what I am doing on and off the court.”

Officials and players at Saturday's draw in Dubai
Officials and players at Saturday's draw in Dubai Image Credit: DDFTC

2018 champion Roberto Bautista Agut has been seeded No. 5, and the Spaniard will open his campaign against German Jan-Lennard Struff. Sixth seed Andrey Rublev, who has shown a huge improvement while winning back-to-back titles in Adelaide and Doha last month, is at a current career high of No. 14. “I think that was an unreal start to my season in January,” Rublev said.

“I am enjoying myself and now reaping all the rewards of the hard work put in so far. This is my first time in the main draw here and I hope I can win every match this week,” the 22-year-old Russian added.

Karen Khachanov
Karen Khachanov is a Dubai resident

Dubai resident Karen Khachanov is the seventh seed and he will start his campaign against Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin, while eighth seed Benoit Paire of France will take on former US Open champion Marin Cilic — also Djokovic’s partner in the men’s doubles this week.

The Arab world’s best player — Mohammad Safwat of Egypt — who is currently ranked No. 132, is a wild card along with India’s 30-year-old Chennai-born lad Prajnesh Gunneswaran, now No. 125 in the world.

The qualifying rounds for the men’s singles and doubles began on Saturday morning, and the remainder of the four matches will conclude on Sunday followed by the start of the main draw matches from 2pm on Monday.