After a near month-long stretch of tennis across the Gulf, Sport360’s Reem Abulleil looks back at the major talking points.
From the best men and women to have shined in both Doha and Dubai to our favourite quotes and shots of the tournaments, we reflect on a busy start to the 2017 tennis season.
DOHA – KAROLINA PLISKOVA
The Czech won four matches in three days in rainy Doha to become the first player to win two WTA titles this season. Ran out of steam in the Dubai but showed she’ll be a force to be reckoned with this season and is already up at No3 in the Road to Singapore leaderboard (RTS).
DUBAI WTA – ELINA SVITOLINA
The Ukrainian finally stepped up from the International-level tournaments to capture her first Premier 5 title by defeating the likes of Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki en route. Is into the top-10 for the first time in her career and is at No2 in the RTS standings.
DUBAI ATP – ANDY MURRAY
The world No1 extended his lead at the top of the rankings by capturing his first Dubai crown, his first title of the season and 45th career trophy. Survived seven match points against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarters and was untroubled from then on.
Kerber’s right-handed volley in Dubai quarters
We’re still trying to process the speed at which Kerber sprinted up front after Ana Konjuh’s shot clipped the net, hit a backhand drop shot, then swiftly switched the racquet from her left hand to her right to hit a volley before Konjuh’s lob sailed long. An unforgettable moment from the German lefty during her quarter-final with the Croatian teenager in Dubai.
Murray’s backspin magic
While many would choose his drop shot to save a match point against Kohlschreiber in the Dubai quarters as his best shot of the tournament, I’m personally still amazed by his half volley against Lucas Pouille in the semis at 6-5 in the first set. There was so much backspin on that shot that the only way Pouille could have responded was if he were on the other side of the net.
It was actually my wife’s mum, we were having dinner, and I was, like, This is really irritating. She was, like, Pull your pants down. Show me, it might be shingles. I was, like, Okay. Then the next day got a doctor, and she was right.
– Andy Murray tells us how his mother-in-law diagnosed his shingles.
I’m giving my 100 per cent in tennis, and I’m just focused on this right now. This is consuming my whole life. I just really want this really bad. So I’m going to do whatever it takes.
– Monica Puig is not short on hunger or motivation.
I understand I have a role to play in the whole tennis world. But at the end of the day tennis is bigger than any tennis player.
– Roger Federer talks to Sport360 about his role in the sport.
BMW X6 for gold. X5 for silver. X4 for bronze.
– Ekaterina Makarova tells us Russia’s system for rewarding its Olympic medallists.
On court it’s easy, she’s lefty and I’m right-handed, but still people can’t tell us apart on court. I don’t know what more we can do to help you.
– Karolina Pliskova is surprised how people still can’t tell her apart from her twin sister Kristyna.
Evgeny Donskoy over Roger Federer
Federer lost to a player ranked outside the top-100 on hard courts for the first time since 2000 when he crashed out to Russian world No116 Donskoy in the Dubai second round. The Swiss squandered three match points in the second set and blew a 5-2 lead in the decider and a 5-1 lead in the third-set tiebreak.
Cici Bellis over Agnieszka Radwanska
The 17-year-old 70th-ranked American claimed her first top-10 win with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 triumph over the sixth-ranked Radwanska.
Jabeur lights up Dubai
Tunisian Ons Jabeur qualified into the Dubai main draw for the first time then upset world No22 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the opening round. Her reward is a leap into the world’s top-140 after entering the tournament ranked 171.
Safwat holds his own
Egyptian wildcard Mohamed Safwat gave a respectable performance against Gael Monfils in the first round in Dubai, saving 15 out of 17 break points en route to 6-4, 6-3 defeat to the Frenchman.
The Swiss became the first defending champion to crash out of the Dubai first round since 2008 when he fell in straight sets to Bosnian world No77 Damir Dzumhur.
The former world No1 reached two finals in two weeks in Doha and Dubai, winning nine of 11 matches, that included wins over tough players like Radwanska, Olympic champion Monica Puig, and Russian teen Daria Kasatkina. She’s up to No14 in the rankings and looks on track to regain her status amongst the game’s elite.
Novak Djokovic could only muster a total of 12 words after his straight-sets defeat to Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco late on Thursday that saw the world No2 crash out at the quarter-finals stage.
Djokovic, who typically plays in Dubai during this week on tour, made a last-minute decision to join the field in Mexico, in an effort to get his season back on track following a shock second-round exit to world No117 Denis Istomin at the Australian Open last month.
Speculation indicated he may have avoided Dubai to rebuild his confidence away from Andy Murray and Roger Federer, who headlined the action here in the Emirates.
But Djokovic was instead handed a tough draw in Acapulco, where he battled past Martin Klizan and Juan Martin del Potro in the opening two rounds before falling to Kyrgios 7-6 (9), 7-5 in what was their first career meeting against each other.
His Dubai draw would have been tamer than that but there’s no point in looking back at what could have been at this point.
Whether Djokovic went to Mexico for a change of scenery, or to avoid his biggest rivals, or any other reason, he certainly leaves there with more question marks about his form than he would have liked.
A very curt Djokovic spoke to the media after his defeat, that saw him suffer just one service break but it came at the worst time, while serving to stay in the match at 5-6 in the second set. Kyrgios broke the top seed at love to secure his 11th career top-10 victory.
Asked how he was feeling after the contest, Djokovic simply said: “Not great.”
Another reporter asked him if got annoyed by Kyrgios at certain points during the match, the Serb replied: “He has a big serve, he deserved to win. Congrats.”
And that was the end of it.
It’s difficult to judge Djokovic’s form based on that defeat to Kyrgios, whose rocket of a serve made him almost unplayable at times during the match, even against one of the best returners in the game.
Kyrgios admits his serve was the key to the victory.
“I think my serve is something I can always rely on,” said the 21-year-old Aussie, who fired 25 aces against Djokovic on Thursday night.
“I think I had a great serving day today. I know against these top guys you need to be able to hold your serve to give yourself your best chance. And I thought today I just competed well, competed for every point, I tried to put as much pressure as I could on his serve, even if I was unsuccessful sometimes, just getting a point here or there.
“I got pretty lucky at the end for the break but I think that was just the pressure of me holding pretty easily and I’m just really happy about getting through.”
Kyrgios is only the second man – alongside fellow Aussie Lleyton Hewitt – to beat Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in his first meeting against each one of them.
He owns a solid 11-17 win-loss record against top-10 opposition. While his commitment to the sport often comes into question and he served a three-week suspension end of last year for tanking a match against Mischa Zverev in Shanghai, Kyrgios rarely fails to turn up against the big guns on the big stage.
“I guess it’s what you dream of as a little kid, playing on these great venues against some of the greatest players in the world. I never really have a problem of getting up for a match like this, it’s more the small tournaments and the smaller matches. I just have to get better every day of finding motivation to come out here and play hard,” concedes the world No17.
Kyrgios was pleased with his focus throughout the one-hour, 47-minute showdown that was played in front of a buoyant crowd that was rallying behind Djokovic.
“I knew the crowd was going to be going for him, he’s a great guy, he’s done a lot of the game, and he’s a great player,” he Kyrgios.
“Of course the crowd is going to go for him, I’m the underdog, and obviously I’m a bit controversial so not many people will like me. That’s fine. I’m not going to change the way I play or who I am. I knew I had a chance to win tonight.”
He faces American Sam Querrey in the semi-finals on Friday while Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic face-off in the other last-four fixture.
Stan Wawrinka conceded that he was “not good enough” and a bit “slow” in his Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships first round defeat to Damir Dzumhur on Tuesday that saw the Swiss’ title defence come to a crashing halt at the opening hurdle.
The second-seeded Wawrinka is the first Dubai defending champion to stumble out of the first round since Roger Federer lost his opener to Andy Murray in 2008.
The world No3 had been out of action for a month nursing a right knee problem he picked up during the Australian Open, which forced him to withdraw from Rotterdam two weeks ago.
In his first match back, Wawrinka was stunned 7-6 (4), 6-3 by the 77th-ranked Dzumhur, who claimed the third top-10 victory of his career to book a second round against Spaniard Marcel Granollers.
“He was playing good today,” said Wawrinka of the 24-year-old Bosnian.
“(I was) Not good enough. I think I started well, but it was a tough match a little bit between missing something to push a little bit more to be a little bit more active. I think after coming back one month out, I had to recover from the injury.
“In practice it start to be okay the last few days, but today I was missing a little bit something.”
Wawrinka was up 3-0 in the first set before he allowed Dzumhur back into the contest and never recovered.
“Physically I was a little bit slow sometimes, so I couldn’t hit that hard from the baseline to push him back. I think I was a little bit too early in defence,” added Wawrinka.
Dzumhur was making his Dubai debut and playing just his third main draw at an ATP 500 event.
His best tour result so far has been reaching the fourth round at the ATP Masters 1000 in Miami last year.
“Three games in, like, six, seven minutes. He was playing outstanding there,” Dzumhur said of Wawrinka’s strong start.
“Was just hitting every ball. I couldn’t even touch the ball. I didn’t have a chance to do something.
“So I knew that it’s not too much about my game. It’s about his day. If he’s going to play like that, he’s gonna win, I cannot do anything.
“But I was hoping that he’s gonna go down with his level of game, and that’s what happened. I was, after winning the first game, I started to fight, to grind, and I found some way to play, to stay in the game. Playing longer points was giving me more chances.”
Wawrinka is unsure about his next step but admits he has a lot of work to do ahead of the ATP Masters 1000 double-header in the United States of Indian Wells and Miami.
“I need to focus on myself. I need to practice more, to get in better level, to expect to do some good results,” said Wawrinka.
“I’m quite unhappy to lose first round. It’s tough, because I played well last year here. I was happy to be back. I was happy to be back on the ATP Tour after a month.
“I was excited and I wanted to do better this week. But the result is not there, but I think in general it’s positive for my tennis.”