The Dubai Tennis Championships, held annually alongside the Mexican Open in Acapulco in the lead up to the Sunshine Double, boasts some of, if not the fastest courts on the ATP Tour calendar. The tournament also has an impressive roster of former champions with multiple Grand Slam winners Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka all having lifted the trophy in recent years. No such illustrious names have made the trip this year, but an exciting week of tennis should still await in Dubai.
Bulgarian world #4 Grigor Dimitrov leads the field in Dubai. The 26-year-old has had a mixed start to the year, but it is arguably one that promises much. Though he has disappointed in his two biggest matches of the year, losing in the Australian Open quarterfinals to Kyle Edmund before being crushed by Federer in the Rotterdam final, Dimitrov can take comfort in reaching the latter stages of tournaments. And with a field containing no other top ten players, he may well fancy this as the week his season really gets underway.
Joining him in the U.A.E. is Lucas Pouille. The Frenchman had a profitable spell during the mini-indoor swing in his homeland, winning in Montpellier before reaching the final in Marseille (lost to Khachanov). Having won his first ATP 500 tournament last year in Vienna the talented Pouille may well feel that he is on course to claim another. Third seeded Roberto Bautista Agut has had a mixed start to the year. He won the title in Auckland but hasn’t won a match since. Could he find another rich vein of form?
Damir Dzumhur was playing some of the best tennis in the world near the end of last year as he rose rapidly up the rankings and claimed two titles in Moscow and St Petersburg. His form this year hasn’t been quite as impressive, but the Bosnian will be a difficult opponent for anyone to face in Dubai. As will fifth seed Richard Gasquet. He may no longer be one of the world’s best, but on a fast court he has the ability to trouble anyone and could have a good week.
Philipp Kohlschreiber, the sixth seed has been a regular visitor to Dubai over the course of his career, with his best result at the tournament reaching the semifinals in 2014 (lost to Berdych). Last year he had a memorable quarterfinal with Andy Murray which included a 38-point tiebreak in which the German had and squandered a number of match points. This year he will no doubt be looking to be more ruthless.
Filip Krajinovic, who last year stunned the tennis world by reaching the final at the Paris Masters, is seeded seventh in Dubai. He has suffered a difficult start to the year, with the adjustment of being a top 50 player not coming easily to the Serbian. But he looks to have found some form of late and will be looking to carry that into the tournament this week. Rounding out the seeds is Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, who like Krajinovic has never before played in Dubai. Perhaps it will be first time lucky for one of them.
First round matches to watch
The match between Greek wildcard Stefanos Tsitsipas and Mikhail Kukushkin looks to be a good one. Tsitsipas is a terrific player to watch, with incredibly clean groundstrokes, particularly a very useful one-handed backhand. But he will have his work cut out against Kukushkin who has been a stalwart in the top 100 for much of his career. Both men are good shot makers, so whoever comes out on top the crowd is likely to have seen a fine match.
Lucas Pouille faces a tough start to the tournament against Ernests Gulbis. Gulbis, once ranked as high as world #10, is a former French Open semifinalist. The Latvian has struggled with motivation and consistency throughout his career, but when he wants to be he is an excellent player. Pouille may have to be at his best, particularly on return, as the Latvian possesses a formidable first serve. Expect Pouille to come through, but not without being tested first.
With all due respect to the entrants of this year’s tournament, the organisers must be slightly disappointed with the strength of the draw. Last year, then world #1 Andy Murray, recently crowned Australian Open champion Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka were all in the draw. This year Grigor Dimitrov is by some margin the most high-profile player in the draw. He is also the heavy favourite. Expect the world #4 to be lifting his first title of the season at the end of the week.
Who do you think will lift the title in Dubai? Let us know in the comments below!