World no. 1 Novak Djokovic will play ATP Doha for the second time in 2016, as he bids to make amends for his shock quarterfinal exit last year. Meanwhile, former champion Rafael Nadal returns as the resurgent Spaniard bids for a successful start to his 2016 season. Defending champion David Ferrer will attempt to repeat his 2015 feat, while last year’s finalist Tomas Berdych will also be back in action at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open.
The 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-seven 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.
David Ferrer won his first title in Doha after triumphing in the 2015 edition of the event. (Photo credit Karim Jaafar/Getty Images)
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. However, in the latter stages of 2015, Nadal showed glimpses of his old self, boosting his way back up to the No. 5 ranking and igniting hope of a resurgence. Not put off by last year’s poor result, Doha is once again the place he has chosen to kick things off for the new season.
Few could have predicted the incredible season Novak Djokovic would embark on after losing in the Qatar Open quarter-finals to Ivo Karlovic in 2015. (Photo credit Karim Jaafar/Getty Images)
Nadal will undoubtedly face stiff competition once again though, as he is joined by a strong field with four fellow top 10 players in action. Djokovic made his debut in Doha last year, when he competed in a pre-Australian Open ATP event for the first time ever - although he succumbed in the quarterfinals against Ivo Karlovic after a three-set marathon. It did not seem to affect the World No. 1’s Grand Slam preparations though, as he went on to pick up a record fifth Australian Open title.
The top seed returns to Qatar riding the momentum of a highly successful past season. The year 2015 saw him win 11 titles, including three Grand Slams, a record six Masters titles and also the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals.
2015 finalist Tomas Berdych enters the field for the third time, after he won two titles in 2015. Meanwhile, defending champion David Ferrer makes a return to Doha after he won five titles in 2015, the fourth most on the ATP Tour.
No. 3 seed Tomas Berdych has fallen into Djokovic's half of the draw, while David Ferrer resides in Rafael Nadal's. But the quartet are far from a cert to make the semi-finals. Dangerous presences in the draw include Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco - who is Djokovic's projected second round opponent - while talented Frenchman Jeremy Chardy is seeded no. 7. Leonardo Mayer, Pablo Andujar, Sergiy Stakhovsky, Martin Klizan and Andreas Seppi also star in a draw that is simply packed with quality for one of the first tournaments of the year.
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