After finishing the season opposing one another in the ATP World Tour Finals decider, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic could once again square off for the Qatar ExxonMobil Open silverware in Doha. The superstar duo will be joined in the draw by the likes of Tomas Berdych, David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Ivo Karlovic.
The ATP 250 event held in the city of Doha on the Persian Gulf coast is the first of two ATP World Tour events held in the Middle East. It attracts an unusually strong field for a 250 tournament, due to its fortuitous position on the calendar.
One of three 250 events held in the first week of official 2016 ATP World Tour competition, the Qatar ExxonMobil Open is a favoured spot for top players to begin their seasons. Refreshed after a six-week break from competition, and fitter than ever after intensive fitness training and practice, the players are hungry for points as they look to get their years off to the best possible start. The contestants in Qatar will be eager to tune up their games on the outdoor hard courts of the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex ahead of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year.
The 32-man draw has attracted top competitors since ATP Doha was played for the first time in 1993, when Boris Becker won the inaugural edition - defeating Stefan Edberg in the semifinals, and Goran Ivanisevic in the final.
Edberg would get his revenge the very next year when he won back-to-back titles at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, foreshadowing the achievements of his star pupil Roger Federer, who became the first man since Edberg – who would become his coach – to win back-to-back titles in Doha in 2005-6. In doing so he defeated Ivan Ljubicic and Gael Monfils, respectively. Federer also became the first man to win three titles when he won again in Doha in 2011, beating defending champion Nikolay Davydenko in the final.
US Open and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray became the second man to win back-to-back titles at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open when he defeated Stan Wawrinka in 2008 and Andy Roddick in 2009. A pair of French stars – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet – won the title in 2012 and 2013.
Rafael Nadal won the Qatar ExxonMobil Open for the first time in six attempts in 2014 - when he defeated Lukas Rosol, Ernests Gulbis and Gael Monfils on his way to the title. It would be the only hard-court title Nadal would capture in a 2014 season marred by injuries and appendicitis.
After missing the end of the 2014 season, Nadal began anew in 2015, although not to any great avail, as the former champion was ousted in the first round against 127th ranked qualifier Michael Berrer. The Spaniard would later go on to fall to his lowest ranking in more than a decade as he continued to struggle with momentum and confidence issues after his troubled 2014 year.
Nadal battled his way through to the Doha final in 2016, but he was comprehensively outclassed by Novak Djokovic, with the Serbian storming to a dominant 6-1 6-2 title triumph. It was Djokovic’s first title in Doha and he will be looking for a big opening week of the season once again after Andy Murray edged him for the No. 1 ranking during the closing stages of 2016.
Speaking of Murray, can the relentless Scot continue his stellar form and capture a first title in Doha since he went back-to-back in 2008/09? Former champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, former finalist Tomas Berdych and David Goffin will be among his challengers - of course along with Djokovic.