The best always come to Dubai. In the last 30 years, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships has welcomed some of the top players in the game. Roger Federer of Switzerland, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Rafael Nadal of Spain and Andy Murray of the United Kingdom have turned up at the Dubai Tennis Stadium. So have Andre Agassi of the United States, Boris Becker of Germany and Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia. Players love the Dubai event, which was voted the ATP 500 Tournament of the Year 11 times since 2003.
Federer leads the champions list with eight titles, followed by Djokovic with five. The winners’ roster of the ATP 500 tournament also includes Austrian Thomas Muster, Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero and American Andy Roddick.
Djokovic, fresh from his Australian Open triumph, returns to Dubai in quest of a sixth title as the 31edition gets underway on Sunday, February 26. The Melbourne win was his 22nd Grand Slam which tied the Serbian World No. 1 with Nadal for most Grand Slam men’s singles titles in history, besides a record 10 Australian Open titles. He is also one of three men to hold all four Grand Slam championships simultaneously; the others are Don Budge and Rod Laver.
Nadal was to have returned to Dubai after 15 years. But the Spaniard, who beat Federer in the 2006 final, had hoped to add a Dubai second title this year. But his plans were derailed by a hip injury sustained during the Australian Open when he was knocked out in the second round by Mackenzie McDonald of the United States.
While Nadal’s injury has been a setback for Dubai fans, the good news is the inclusion of Murray, who received a wild card. Like Nadal, Murray’s career too has been plagued by injuries, and he was forced to miss the Australian Open and the ATP Cup finals.
Andy Murray withdraws
The three-time Grand Slam, who had a hip replacement in 2019, had struck a purple patch in Doha. He survived a slew of three-setters to reach the Qatar Open final — his first ATP final in eight months. He lost to Daniil Medvedev in the Doha final, and a recurrence of the hip injury prompted him to withdraw from the Dubai event.
Eight top 20 players will appear in Dubai, making for some exciting contests. Russians Andrey Rublev (No. 5) and Medvedev (No. 8) will be there. Rublev, 25, will be hoping to make amends for his quarterfinal loss in Doha and defend his title in Dubai.
2021 US Open winner Medvedev had beaten World No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime in the Doha semifinal. In Dubai, Canadian Auger-Aliassime, 22, who suffered six defeats at the hands of Medvedev, will get a chance to avenge the losses and add to his four titles.
The genial World No. 11 Hubert Hurkacz overcame local boy Benjamin Bonzil to win the Open 13 Provence in Marseille. The best men’s player in Poland’s history (the most popular one is women’s World No. 1 Iga Swiatek), Hurkacz had a breakout year in 2021 and now owns six titles.
Karen Khachanov of Russia, Alexander Zverev of Germany, Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain and Borna Coric of Croatia complete the list of eight top 20 players in the fray.
World No. 14 Khachanov, 26, has had a good run making the semifinals of two majors, back-to-back. He lost to Caspar Rudd of Norway at Flushing Meadows, failing to convert some crucial points. But the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas proved too strong for the Russian, who fought a four-setter at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.
Zverev, 25, was one of the victims of 35-year-old Murray’s sensational run in the Qatar Open in a three-setter that stretched over three hours. But the German World No. 16, who has won 19 titles, can take heart from his victory over Djokovic in the World Tennis League for Team Hawks.
Carreno Busta, 31, hasn’t been having the best of times recently. A bronze-medallist at the Tokyo Olympics, the Spanish World No. 17 suffered a second-round loss in Australian Open and was upset by French veteran Richard Gasquet in the first round in Rotterdam.
World No. 20 Coric, who crashed to a shock first-round defeat to Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic in Melbourne, skipped the Rotterdam event due to “some minor issues with his hip”. The 26-year-old quarterfinalist at Montepellier comes to Dubai, hoping to return to his best.
In the absence of Murray, all eyes will be on Djokovic as the top-seeded Serbian is the overwhelming favourite. With Djokovic around, there can never be a dull moment.
NOTE: The report has been updated after Andy Murray's withdrawal