The Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) line-up went from good to great on Tuesday following the announcement that Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are joining Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta in Abu Dhabi this December.
The 10th edition of the capital showpiece takes place from December 28-30 and the return of Djokovic and Wawrinka from their lengthy injury lay-offs will no doubt provide a major boost.
Here are five intriguing storylines to look out for at this winter’s MWTC…
Abu Dhabi will be Djokovic’s first appearance in nearly six months. The Serb’s last outing was a quarter-final exit from Wimbledon in July and he ruled himself out from the rest of the 2017 season to recover from a lingering elbow problem he says has been plaguing him for almost a year and a half.
All eyes will be on Djokovic next season, not just because he’s coming back from a long hiatus, but because he stepped away from the sport following a puzzling and surprising dip in form experienced over the previous 12 months.
Will the 30-year-old manage to get back to his Grand Slam-winning ways? That will be the million-dollar question in 2018, and UAE tennis fans will get an early taste of Djokovic’s intentions when he swings by Zayed Sports City in December.
Another mouth-watering prospect is: Will he show up with his coach Andre Agassi in tow? Just imagine watching those practices from the cosy outside courts of the MWTC!
Wawrinka made the Roland Garros final, then lost his opener at Wimbledon, and hasn’t played a match since, missing his US Open title defence to recover from double knee surgery.
The Swiss is one of several top players who have pulled the plug early on their 2017 term and considering he’s not one to take long breaks from the game, it’s going to be interesting to see how Wawrinka bounces back from that injury setback, especially with the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Sascha Zverev finding consistent form this year.
The MWTC has been the unofficial season opener for Nadal for eight of the past nine years but this time things will be a little different for the Spaniard. 2018 will be his first season without his uncle Toni Nadal coaching him on tour and although Nadal usually comes to Abu Dhabi with his other coach Francis Roig, rather than Toni, this will still mark the start of a new era for the world No. 1.
How will life on the road sans Toni feel like for the 16-time Grand Slam champion? His first major without him will be quite telling.
The talented Austrian has already separated himself from the rest of the chasing pack, along with Zverev, with some great results, including back-to-back French Open semi-final appearances in 2016 and 2017. Thiem is currently No. 4 in the Race to London behind Nadal, Federer and Zverev.
The 24-year-old is at a career-high No. 6 in the world rankings but can he push forward next season when Djokovic, Andy Murray and Wawrinka are all back in the mix?
A big year lies ahead for Thiem.
For so long, people have been wondering whether any young Spaniard will be able to carry the baton from the likes of Nadal, David Ferrer, Feliciano Lopez and Co.
Carreno Busta’s name was mentioned many times in the past as a possible candidate but he never really lived up to such expectation. Until this year, when he made the quarters of Roland Garros, the semis of the US Open and Indian Wells, and cracked the top-10 for the first time.
Granted, he is 26 and is not in the same league as Nadal or a peak Ferrer, but kudos to him for keeping up his results this season, and position himself as a strong contender for the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
His heroics this year earned him a spot in the MWTC, which is typically exclusive to the game’s top stars, and the tournament can perhaps give him some confidence to start the new season in such elite company.
Both players have not played since Wimbledon and pulled the plug early on their respective 2017 seasons, with Djokovic taking a break from the game to nurse a lingering elbow problem while Wawrinka underwent knee surgery.
The pair join Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta in the landmark 10th edition of the MWTC, taking place at Zayed Sports City from December 28 — 30.
Djokovic, who welcomed his second child and first daughter — named Tara — in September, is a three-time champion in Abu Dhabi but his last appearance at the event saw him hand Andy Murray a walkover in the final of the January 2015 edition.
“I am extremely excited to return to Abu Dhabi for the fifth time and take part in the 10th edition of the Championship,” said Djokovic.
“It is a huge honour to take part in such a special tournament. The line-up is very strong as always and it will be the perfect way to make my comeback and begin the season. Abu Dhabi is an amazing place and this is going to be a great event for all of the fans.”
Wawrinka, who had a second surgery on his knee in August, will be making his fifth MWTC appearance.
“It is always a pleasure to kick the season off at the beautiful event in Abu Dhabi,” said the Swiss.
“The fans are amazing there and the draw is as strong as always with a lot of great players. My recovery is going well and I can’t wait to be back on court. I’m working hard together with my team and looking forward to being back.”
To celebrate the 10th edition, MWTC will be giving those who purchase tickets in the next ten days, a chance to win signed merchandise by either Wawrinka or Djokovic.
US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta was announced as the fourth player set to take part in this December’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship, the tournament announced on Monday.
The 26-year-old Spaniard, who has broken into the top-10 for the first time following his US Open exploits earlier this month, joins world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, No. 7 Dominic Thiem and No. 11 Milos Raonic in what is shaping up to be an exciting line-up for the Abu Dhabi showpiece.
Carreno Busta will be making his first appearance at the event that is scheduled to take place from December 28-30, 2017.
The Gijon-native is enjoying a breakthrough season where he picked up a third career title, in Estoril, and made his maiden Grand Slam semi-final in New York.
Carreno Busta also reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, the semi-finals at Indian Wells and the final of the Rio Open.
He also claimed his first ever victory against a top-10 player by defeating Raonic in the French Open fourth round in June.
Tickets for the landmark 10th edition of the MWTC are on sale at www.ticketmaster.ae and all Virgin Megastores across the UAE. For more information, visit: www.mubadalawtc.com.