From left: Sinead El Sibai, senior VP Marketing – Dubai Duty Free, Roberto Bautista Agut, Marin Čilić, Salah Tahlak, Colm McLoughlin, Naser Yousef, secretary general, Tennis Emirates, Lars Graff, ATP supervisor and Ramesh Cidambi during the main draw of the men’s singles of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships yesterday. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, the footballer-turned-tennis player is hoping to use his strong early season start in defending his singles title when the main draw of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships men’s competition gets under way on Monday.

Agut, who played football for La Liga side Villarreal CF till he was 14, switched sport to chart his own bit of history in tennis.

Last year, the world No. 18 went on to tame Frenchman Lucas Pouille in straight sets and win his biggest career title till date.

“It was never an easy decision and I feel lucky to have played both sports before choosing tennis,” Bautista Agut told media after the main round draw as he starts the defence of his title. “It was a fantastic week last year and I played very good tennis and it was very nice to finish with a title. I remember this as one of my biggest wins,” he recalled.

The men’s draw ceremony was attended by Colm McLoughlin, executive vice-chairman and CEO, Dubai Duty Free; Salah Tahlak, executive vice-president, Corporate Services and Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships tournament director and Ramesh Cidambi, chief operating officer, Dubai Duty Free.

Bautista Agut has had a flying start to 2019, beating Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka on his way to winning the Doha title before reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. He will begin the defence of his title against wild card Ramkumar Ramanathan from India, and the 30-year-old could potentially meet Kukushkin in the quarter-finals.

Trying to stop Bautista Agut when the main round gets under way will be seven-time Dubai champion and crowd favourite Roger Federer. Seeded two in a field that includes nine of the world’s top-20, Federer will open against German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber and should he get through, the Swiss ace will most likely be up against Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.

Making his Dubai debut will be top seed Kei Nishikori, who is scheduled to play Benoit Paire with a potential quarter-final against exciting Greek youngster and Australian Open sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Perhaps, the toughest task will be before third seed Marin Cilic — playing in Dubai for the first time since 2010 — as the former US Open champion takes on Frenchman Gael Monfils, champion at the Rotterdam Open last week.

In other exciting first round encounters, fourth seed Karen Khachanov will play Nikoloz Basilashvili, fifth seed Tsitsipas will face Matthew Ebden and sixth seed Borna Coric will open against Mikhail Kukushkin.

McLoughlin disclosed that two ball kids from the Dubai Tennis Championships will travel to London for an all-expense paid trip to attend the season-ending Barclays ATP Final that is scheduled to start on November 17.