In case you hadn’t noticed, the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship has produced some outstanding action over the course of the last four days, with the tournament now reaching the quarter-final stage.
Belinda Bencic recently played out a thrilling three-set encounter with the big-hitting Aryna Sabalenka, for example, with the 21-year old Swiss winning a tight tie-breaker to clinch the victory. The tournament also saw back-to-back major winner Naomi Osaka suffer a shock second-round defeat against Kristina Mladenovic, in her first game after winning the Australian Open.
This tournament will be settled on February 24th, before the ATP version of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship gets underway the following day. We’ll preview the men’s tournament below, while asking who are likely to be the key contenders.
Federer the Favourite to Win his 100th Title
All eyes will be on the returning Roger Federer this year, with the seven-time Dubai winner confirmed to appear after missing last year’s’ tournament.
The Swiss will go in search of his 100th ATP Tour title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, having claimed his 99th trophy in the Swiss Indoors final in Basle last October.
Federer, who has also lost a further two finals in Dubai, is the betting favourite this year with his leading rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal both noticeable by their absence after contesting the Australian Open final at the end of January.
With 2017 winner Andy Murray also absent after undergoing another bout of hip surgery, the Swiss has even see his odds of success shortened recently despite seeing his world ranking decline to seven as of February 18th.
This, coupled with the fact that Federer has competed in 13 previous Dubai Championships, means that his competitors will have to perform at their best to stop him from achieving history come March 3rd.
Will the Young Guns Come Good in Dubai?
Conversely, it may be argued that the absence of three of the so-called ‘big four’ will also offer a unique opportunity for one of the sport’s next generation stars to make their mark in Dubai.
This number includes the exciting world number 12 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who shot to prominence during a run to the Australian Open semi-finals last month. While he was outclassed by Nadal in this lopsided contest, he managed to defeat Federer in the fourth round and became the highest ranked Greek player in history in the process.
Having also win his maiden ATP Tour title in last years’ Stockholm Open, he’ll surely fancy his chances of going all the way in Dubai.
The Russian 21-year old Karen Khachanov is another young gun who will have aspirations of winning in Dubai, having risen to 11th in the world and won an impressive four ATP tour titles to date.
In addition to this, he has also performed relatively well in the Grand Slams, reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros and the third round at Wimbledon last year. So, while he may lack the rising profile or presence of rival Tsitsipas, he arguably boasts a better track record on the challenging men’s tour.
Who Else will Contend in Dubai, as who will Ultimately Prevail?
Elsewhere, there are a number of former next generation stars who will be hoping to capitalise in the absence of Djokovic, Nadal and Murray, including the defending champion Bautista Agut.
Agut has been in outstanding form so far in 2019, having beaten Juan Martin Del Potro to lift the ASB Classic at the beginning of the year. He’ll also arrive as the defending champion in Dubai, having comfortably beaten Lucas Pouille 6-3, 6-4 last year.
The enigmatic Ken Nishikori will also fancy of chances of claiming his 13th ATP Tour title in 2019, particularly as he enters as the highest ranked player in the draw as world number six. However, the Japanese star has failed to reach a final at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship since his debut, while he also endured a run of nine successful final defeats before surprisingly winning the Brisbane Open at the beginning of January.
Ultimately, this is a long list of potential contenders, but the question that remains is whether the absence of Djokovic and Nadal has blown the tournament wide open rather than reinforcing Federer’s chances of winning his iconic 100th ATP Tour title.
Of course, there’s little doubt that Federer will have a great chance if he hits top form in Dubai, but he has struggled to perform consistently since his shock five-set defeat to South African Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon in 2018.
If the Swiss underperforms, the smart money is arguably on one of the young guns to take another step towards greatness in Dubai. Greek star Tsitsipas is probably the most obvious candidate to win from this field, especially given the momentum he managed to achieve during his run to the last four in Melbourne.