The immensely-popular Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships highlight the month of February as the 500 ATP Dubai event attracts a strong field to its outdoor hard courts.
World No. 1 Andy Murray will compete in his first tournament since suffering a shock early exit in Melbourne, while he will be joined by Australian Open champion Roger Federer - a seven time champion in Dubai - and defending champion Stan Wawrinka. Two-time runner-up Tomas Berdych and the always-entertaining Gael Monfils will also be among the leading contenders for the silverware.
First played in 1993, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is the biggest men’s tournament held in the Middle East and always attracts a strong field. The United Arab Emirates city, a global financial hub, hosts some of the biggest names in men’s tennis on the outdoor hard courts of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Centre, formerly known as the Aviation Club, which includes a Stadium court that is also a popular music venue. ATP Dubai takes place under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships were upgraded to a 500-level event in 2001, making the tournament the largest ATP World Tour event in the Middle East, and highlights the month of February. The top players turn their attention to outdoor hard courts from mid-February onwards as they begin to prepare for March’s major events at Indian Wells and Dubai, and many of them choose to appear at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which has been voted the ATP World Tour 500 tournament of the year ten times.
Karel Novacek won the inaugural ATP Dubai tournament in 1993, defeating Fabrice Santoro in the final, and a number of big names would go on to claim the trophy – Goran Ivanisevic (1996, d. Albert Costa), Thomas Muster (1997, d. Ivanisevic), Juan Carlos Ferrer (2001, d. Marat Safin) – but the history of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships since 2003 has been dominated by two players above all: Novak Djokovic and especially Roger Federer.
Only two players not named Djokovic or Federer have won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships since Roger Federer defeated Jiri Novak to win his first title in 2003, going on to win two more consecutive titles before his reign was interrupted by Rafael Nadal in 2006 and then Andy Roddick in 2008. Novak Djokovic took up the mantle next, equaling Federer’s feat of three consecutive titles when he monopolized the tournament between 2009 and 2011, but Federer struck back to take a fifth title in 2012, defeating Andy Murray in the final. Djokovic took the 2013 title, defeating Tomas Berdych, but Federer defeated him in turn in the semifinals of the 2014 edition and went on to beat Berdych in the final to claim an amazing sixth Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title.
Federer’s 2014 title signalled a resurgent season for the 17-time Grand Slam champion which saw him return to world no. 2 after winning five titles and reaching the Wimbledon final, and an even better season in 2015 would be heralded by an incredible seventh Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title. Runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon and the US Open, Federer was the only player to defeat Djokovic more than once through the world no. 1’s absurdly dominant season and the first of those came in the Dubai final as Federer played superb aggressive tennis to claim a 6-3, 7-5 victory and the Dubai crown.
Federer was unable to defend his Dubai title in 2016 due to a knee injury sustained at the Australian Open, but the Swiss reign continued with Stan Wawrinka claiming his first Dubai triumph. Djokovic famously retired in the quarter-finals due to an eye problem, with Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis ultimately taking advantage of the depleted top half of the draw and winning through to the final. However he couldn’t get over the line against Wawrinka, who after a marathon second set tiebreak, emerged a 6-4 7-6(13) champion.
Wawrinka, like Federer and Murray, hasn’t played since the Australian Open (where he lost to eventual champion Federer in a gripping five-set semi-final). Murray is searching for his first title in Dubai and much-needed confidence after a disappointing start to the season, while it will be interesting to see how Federer performs following his dream Australian Open run. Berdych and Monfils are ever-present figures, while mercurial talents Fernando Verdasco and Benoit Paire and young stars Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev will ensure a nice mix of styles and play.
Don’t miss any of the action when the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Tennis championships begin on Monday February 27.