Ferrer out at first hurdle in Doha

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The World No.7 struggled to get going against his lower-ranked opponent.

David Ferrer’s title defence journey in Doha ended at the very first hurdle as the fourth-seeded Spaniard suffered a shock three-set defeat to World No.94 Illya Marchenko.

Ferrer, whose only first round defeat in Doha in five previous appearances came at the hands of Roger Federer 11 years ago, blamed fatigue and a superior opponent for his surprise 6-7 (8), 6-3, 6-2 exit.

– VIDEO: Rafael Nadal reflects on 2016 Mubadala victory
– VIDEO: Sport360 comp winner enjoys Wawrinka clinic
– INTERVIEW: Stan Wawrinka holds high hopes for 2016
– INTERVIEW: Andy Murray on fatherhood and 2016

The World No.7 had shown great form in Abu Dhabi losing a close three-setter to Rafael Nadal on Friday at the Mubadala exhibition event before defeating Stan Wawrinka the next day.

But he struggled from the start against Ukrainian Marchenko, who was 0-4 in matches and 0-11 in sets against top-10 opposition prior to the clash with Ferrer.

Ferrer finished the two-hour 17-minute match with an alarming tally of 43 unforced errors against just 13 winners and the 33-year-old committed nine double faults.

“I don’t know why but I’m tired, I’ve been tired since I got here and didn’t even train on Sunday,” said Ferrer.

“In Abu Dhabi I was with energy, and maybe tonight I didn’t have energy. I don’t know why. I work, and, well, tonight it was not a good day.

“Of course I am disappointed because I lost in the first round. Not because last year I won. I know every year is different and last year is the past.”

Ferrer trailed by a break for most of the first set but rallied back when Marchenko wobbled while serving for the set at 5-4 to force a tiebreak. In the breaker, Ferrer fell behind 1-5 but again launched a comeback and saved a set point for 6-6.

The Spaniard double-faulted on one of his chances to close out the set but he converted on his third to inch ahead.

World No.94 Illya Marchenko claimed his biggest scalp on the ATP World Tour.

Marchenko could have folded after that, having come so close to winning the set and seeing it slip away but the 28-year-old Ukrainian was soon up a break in the second, levelling the match and he led by a double-break in the decider, going up 4-1 thanks to a Ferrer double fault.

Serving for the match, Marchenko double-faulted three times but Ferrer didn’t capitalise on any of his chances to break and the Ukrainian finally sealed his victory with a drive winner and looked around in disbelief of what he had just accomplished.

“It’s a fantastic day for me,” Marchenko said after getting the first top-10 win of his career.

“I feel great, obviously, beating a guy that high ranked. And I have really huge respect for David. I enjoy his matches, how he fights on court, and it’s a huge moment for me.”

Ferrer paid tribute to his opponent saying: “He was better than me all the match. From the first set, he deserved to win the match.”

The veteran Spaniard is playing with a new racquet. Asked if it is taking him time to get used to it, Ferrer said: “No. I have faith in the racquet and I believe it will help me and I’ll finish my career with this racquet.”

Marchenko next faces Teymuraz Gabashvili in the second round on Wednesday.

The Ukrainian admits the high from this win will be difficult to handle but is hoping to keep his cool against Gabashvili.

“For sure it’s really difficult to handle that stress. I’m having like such emotions what I didn’t have before, and obviously it’s not much time for the second match. Gabashvili is a tough opponent for me. We had good matches with him and tough matches. 

“I’m not expecting easy win tomorrow because, you know, when you beat those guys, your confidence goes up and you expect that you beat now everyone like he did before.

“No, I’m not expecting that, and we will see tomorrow how I stay concentrated and everything. It’s difficult to say what’s gonna happen tomorrow.”

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Djokovic brushes Brown aside in Qatar

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Still going strong: Novak Djokovic.

It may be a new year and a new season but for Novak Djokovic it is business as usual as the world No1 picked up right where he left off last November, cruising through his first match of 2016 in less than an hour on Monday in Doha.

Djokovic wrote “I missed it” on the camera lens following his 6-2, 6-2 51-minute demolition of German-Jamaican Dustin Brown in the Qatar Open first round, but it feels like he never stopped playing during the offseason considering there were no signs of rust from the Serb, who was contesting his first match in almost six weeks.

The 10-time grand slam champion is coming off his greatest season to date but insists he has no intention of slowing down.

– VIDEO: Rafael Nadal reflects on 2016 Mubadala victory
– VIDEO: Sport360 comp winner enjoys Wawrinka clinic
– INTERVIEW: Stan Wawrinka holds high hopes for 2016
– INTERVIEW: Andy Murray on fatherhood and 2016

“I think the biggest challenge is, as it is in any of the previous years for me, is to really be consistent with my success throughout the year, try to stay healthy and try to maintain the high level of performance,” said Djokovic, who faces either Fernando Verdasco or Malek Jaziri in the second round.
“That’s what I try to focus my mind on. If I start thinking too much about certain tournaments, it can present a kind of a distraction to me so you try not to do that. I try to actually be as much as I can in the present and work my way through and effect whatever I can effect.

“That is: really working on my game, training myself to be strong and to play confident tennis. And I know as a consequence to that, the results will be positive, I’m hoping, obviously.

“So this year it’s going to be especially congested because of Olympic Games. Davis Cup is there, as well, and obviously – I’m playing first round of Davis Cup, yes. And depending on what we do, I’m not sure. There is going to be a lot of matches, hopefully. If there is a lot of matches, that means I’m doing well.”

Playing in windy and cold conditions, Brown won the very first point of the match as the flamboyant German attacked the net in his signature aggressive style and volleyed for a winner. But Djokovic had all the weapons to extinguish his opponent’s threat, racing to a 3-0 lead and going up a set inside half an hour.

The top seed broke in the sixth game of the second set and again two games later to seal the victory and advance to round two.

“Considering the weather conditions and everything, I think it was a good performance from my side. Obviously I played a player who I never faced before and somebody that is, first of all, I think a very charismatic guy, very good for tennis, for sport, and somebody that is unpredictable. Comes up firing with the shots,” Djokovic said of his dreadlocked opponent.

Djokovic, playing in Qatar for only the second time in his career, hailed the history of the tournament, which is in its 24th edition – the first which was won by his coach, Boris Becker in 1993.

“We are hoping that I can repeat that success this year,” Djokovic said smiling, referring to Becker.

Earlier in the day, Rafael Nadal lost his opening doubles match alongside fellow Spaniard Verdasco 6-7(4), 6-4, 11-9 to Teymuraz Gabashvili and Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

Nadal will kick-off his singles campaign today against Pablo Carreno Busta, also of Spain, and explained he worked on specific areas during the offseason in order to improve his form on the court.

“It is obvious that I feel more confident this year but anything can happen. This is the sport,” the 29-year-old said yesterday.

“We worked a little bit different (in the offseason). We try to find different positions on court, try to play more inside and we work a lot on the return, too. We feel that we need a few things that are different than other years but on the same time without losing the character of my game.”

Spanish world No17 Feliciano Lopez suffered the first upset of the tournament, falling to his countryman Daniel Munoz de la Nava 3-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5. It could mean good news for young Brit Kyle Edmund, who qualified for the tournament and won his first round 6-2, 6-3 over Martin Klizan and will now face de la Nava instead of Lopez in round two. 

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Qatar Open Diary: Old foes reunite in Doha

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Familiar faces: Rafael Nadal and Carlos Bernardes.

Monday marked the official opening day of the 2016 season and it was also the day Rafael Nadal and chair umpire Carlos Bernardes reunited on court for the first time since the Rio Open last year in February.

Nadal had requested the ATP not to be umpired by the Brazilian after they argued during the Rio semi-finals regarding time violations.

The world No5 had explained that they just needed a break so things cool down and it looks like finally, almost 11 months later, things are back to normal as Bernardes officiated Nadal’s opening doubles match on Tuesday in Doha.

– VIDEO: Rafael Nadal reflects on 2016 Mubadala victory
– VIDEO: Sport360 comp winner enjoys Wawrinka clinic
– INTERVIEW: Stan Wawrinka holds high hopes for 2016
– INTERVIEW: Andy Murray on fatherhood and 2016

Not like Nadal was keen to discuss the matter though. Asked if he had spoken to Bernardes to clear the air prior to this season, the Mallorcan simply said: “No!”

Meanwhile, Tomas Berdych appeared in his pre-event press conference dressed in adidas gear which means the Czech has parted ways with H&M and bid farewell to their flower prints, beige pyjama-like shorts and Argentina football jersey-inspired shirts.

While I won’t miss the outfits, surely we’re all going to miss massacring them in our daily coverage. It was an entertainment factor that is tough to replicate.

Out on the courts of the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, conditions have been undeniably cold and windy.

It’s been getting colder and colder each year in Doha and I wonder how this event can continue to be held outdoors in the future.

Especially that most of the matches are played after sunset and 15-degree weather, plus wind chill, is not a pleasant experience, especially for spectators.

While many players are used to much colder weather, “I know really of conditions much worse than this,” Berdych told me on Monday, it’s also not the ideal preparation for the Australian Open, where temperatures are usually very high.

Will players soon opt to play at warmer tournaments in the future to get ready for Melbourne?

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