Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic will be up against a very strong field in their bid to make it a Swiss 'double' in Dubai. Image Credit: Organisers

Dubai: Swiss pair Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic will attempt to achieve a remarkable ‘double’ as they bid to retain their Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships titles next month. The two-week tennis festival will be held from February 17-29.

Last year was only the second time in the history of the tournament that two players from the same country won the title, after Fabrice Santoro and Amelie Mauresmo in 2002.

“It was remarkable to see two players from the same country emerge as our Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships singles champions, and we are delighted to welcome Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic once again,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We look forward to seeing if they can set a new milestone by successfully defending those titles, but they face competition from one of the strongest fields ever assembled in Dubai.”

While Federer began last year as a strong favourite to win his eighth Dubai crown and at the same time claim an epic 100th career title, no one expected Bencic to emerge from such a star-studded field to become the champion - least of all herself.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s incredible,” said Bencic after her victory. “Especially I’m realising after two rounds, we were already saying, ‘Wow, this is a great tournament. Now it’s only bonus. Then I won against Sabalenka after being out already. So many times I was close from defeat. It’s unbelievable that I ended up winning this.”

Her victory proved to be a springboard as she went on to reach the final in Mallorca, reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career at the US Open where she beat world number one and defending champion Naomi Osaka, and win a second title of the year in Moscow. Following her US Open run, she re-entered the top 10 after a gap of four years and four months.

While everyone was surprised to see Bencic lift the trophy, few if anyone expected that someone other than Federer would triumph the following week. Although he faced a formidable challenge in the final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, an opponent who had sensationally defeated him at the Australian Open just weeks before, the Swiss maestro came through to continue his staggering run of success in Dubai.

That may in part be due to him enjoying the luxury of enjoying familiar surroundings when he competes in Dubai. Players rarely play in their home city and have to adapt to new places every week. But Federer has long had a base in Dubai and he spends a considerable amount of time in the city, and that makes the event more comfortable for him.

“I feel very happy here when I’m playing the tournament, no doubt about it. I feel like I do get like somewhat of a home crowd support,” he said. “Yeah, walking around and stuff, I know my way around. I love taking my car and going to places, going to restaurants, all that stuff. I mean, it depends. Obviously if I would go to the mall at 9pm, not the cleverest move I could make. I know where to go, how to do it.”

“Belinda Bencic’s victory last year as she upset so many top 10 opponents demonstrated that no player, regardless of their ranking and reputation, can be assured of success at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak.