The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships main draw action kicks off on Sunday with 12 singles matches on the schedule, which will serve as a teaser for what’s to come this week at the Aviation Club.
There have been 10 withdrawals from the tournament so far, with No6 seed Johanna Konta being the latest high-profile pull-out due to injury, but there is still plenty to look forward to.
Here’s what you need to know before the madness begins…
The draw is very lopsided
A quick glance at the draw will reveal that the bottom half is significantly tougher than the top one. No1 seed Angelique Kerber has Elena Vesnina, Dominika Cibulkova and Elina Svitolina as the top-eight seeds in her half as well as dangerous floaters like Caroline Garcia, Naomi Osaka and Roberta Vinci but still the opposite side is absolutely jam-packed.
There’s a ‘quarter of death’ that includes Garbine Muguruza, former champions Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki, St. Petersburg runner-up Yulia Putintseva and Russian teen Daria Kasatkina, who beat Kerber a few days ago in Doha, and last month in Sydney.
Also in that half is No2 seed Karolina Pliskova and Australian Open semi-finalist Coco Vandeweghe. Minefields left, right and centre.
Will Kerber regroup and go top?
The German can still dethrone Serena Williams and reclaim the No1 ranking if she wins the title in Dubai. Her record however in the Emirates is not very promising. Kerber has won just one match in four main draw appearances here.
The 29-year-old has started 2017 with a mediocre 4-4 win-loss record, compared to 13-3 within the same period last season. The promising signs are that her defeats this season have come against quality players and she is in the softer side of the draw in Dubai.
Teen talent in full force
Centre court ticket holders today must look no further than the wonderful Naomi Osaka. The Japanese world No.56 is making her tournament debut and has a power game that is a joy to watch. Her quirky personality is also very endearing.
Fellow 19-year-old Kasatkina is also a must-watch and her opener against Wozniacki is a brutal first round for both. Expect fireworks. Also keep an eye on Ana Konjuh, a quarter-finalist at the US Open last year, and 17-year-old American Cici Bellis. World No34 Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia is an exciting 19-year-old, who has enjoyed success in the Gulf in the past, having reached the final in Doha last year.
Dubai field is stronger than last year
The reason the Dubai draw is bigger compared to 2016 and features five of the world’s top-10 is because it swaps the Premier 5 status with Doha each year and this season the Emirates has the higher status. More points and more money are on offer in Dubai, which means more is on the line.
There’s an Arab in the draw
Tunisian Ons Jabeur earned a place in the main draw by winning her two qualifying matches and will no doubt enjoy lots of support when she faces Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Court 1 on opening day.
Ons Jabeur made history on Saturday as she became the first Arab woman to qualify for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after claiming a tough win over Gabriela Dabrowski.
The Tunisian followed up her opening round win against Paula Cristina Goncalves on Friday with a battling victory over Dabrowski, who was up a set and a break before Jabeur struck back.
Jabeur’s compatriot Selima Sfar and Omani player Fatma Al Nabhani have both appeared in the Dubai main draw before but only via wildcards.
This is the third WTA main draw event of the season where Jabeur has managed to qualify and the former Roland Garros junior champion is looking forward to her opener with No14 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Sunday.
“I’m really excited to be at this level, it’s changing. It’s a Premier event here, it’s a big tournament and I’m really looking forward to play,” Jabeur told Sport360.
“I like to play these matches (against big players). I invite all the Arab and Tunisian people living in Dubai to come and support me, even if I’m playing a big player. Hopefully I’ll go forward in this draw.”
Jabeur credited her increased level of fitness for hanging in there after coming ever so close to losing to her Canadian opponent on Saturday.
“I wasn’t playing that well in the first set, I was really angry about my game. But after that – I think when I’m down I play better, it happened many times. I was a little bit nervous but I just played my game,” said the 22-year-old.
“It was also a bit tough in the tiebreak because I was down 4-2. And lately I’ve been losing all the tiebreaks so I was thinking about that during the match, that was really bad for me. but I think after that in the third set she was tired, I didn’t give her a chance to come back or do better.
“Physically I’m better now, which is helping me more and more. I was trying not to give up and play my game, always there for all the balls so they will maybe lose the confidence to go and play the rallies with me.”
The Scottish star will join Australian Open men’s doubles champions Henri Kontinen and John Peers in the competitive field, while of course the world’s top-ranked player will also compete in singles action.
Murray will partner Nenad Zimonjic in the UAE and then potentially take on the likes of Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka in singles.
Finland’s Kontinen and Australian partner Peers delighted the Melbourne spectators when they defeated Bob and Mike Bryan, winning the Australian Open while surrendering just one set along the way.
It was the pair’s maiden Grand Slam title, and came only weeks after they also won the Paris ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event and the 2016 season climax ATP World Finals in London.
With a combined 26 doubles titles between them and having claimed the three biggest titles on offer in recent weeks, Kontinen and Peers will clearly start as favourites to add Dubai to their rapidly growing list of tournament triumphs.
Murray has concentrated all his efforts on becoming the number one singles player in the world, and in 2016 he ventured onto the doubles court at an ATP World Tour event only twice, at Indian Wells and Monte Carlo.
His only effort this season came in Doha, where he fell in the first round to David Marrero and Nenad Zimonjic, and it was perhaps there that Murray decided he would like to partner the Serbian in Dubai.
With 54 doubles titles to date, including two Wimbledons and a French Open and a title already this year in Sofia, an Australian Open final appearance and three runs to the quarterfinals of the US Open, Zimonjic is greatly in demand as a partner. He also has a fantastic record in Dubai, winning the title with Fabrice Santoro as long ago as 2007 and finishing as runner up on no less than four occasions including three years in a row from 2013 to 2015.
Tickets for every day of the event including the finals are still available from the Box Office at the Dubai Tennis Stadium, Garhoud which opens from 9am to 9pm daily. Tickets are also available online through http://www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com/en/tickets. For further information about tickets, prices and the tournament visit www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com.