Fernando Verdasco booked his place in the last four of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships with a comfortable victory over fourth seed Gael Monfils.
The Spaniard needed just an hour and 21 minutes to secure the 6-3, 7-5 win over the Frenchman.
Verdasco will face Robin Haase of Holland in the semi-finals on Friday.
Stan Wawrinka will begin his title defence in Dubai on Tuesday against Bosnian Damir Dzumhur after taking a month off to heal the knee injury that hampered him at the Australian Open.
The second-seeded Swiss lost to Roger Federer in the semi-finals in Melbourne last month and then pulled out of the Rotterdam Open two weeks ago due to his knee problems.
Wawrinka only returned back to the court to practice last week but feels ready for his opener against the 24-year-old Dzumhur.
“I’m happy to be back. For sure I was out of competition for a lot of time, it wasn’t the best, but I needed time to feel better again physically,” said the 31-year-old Wawrinka, who beat Marcos Baghdatis last year in the Dubai final to win the trophy.
“After one month you also have to wait and see how the knee is going to react in matches at a high level. But in general I think my last few days have been okay.”
Wawrinka, a three-time grand slam champion, has reached the last-four in the two tournaments he has contested so far this season, in Brisbane and the Australian Open, and he feels satisfied with his game.
Considered a late-bloomer, Wawrinka won his first major at 28 in Melbourne, then added the French Open the following year, before capturing the US Open last fall.
Wimbledon is the only grand slam missing from his trophy cabinet and it is a tournament where he has yet to find his best game.
Is completing the career Grand Slam a priority for Wawrinka?
“It’s not a goal. It’s already amazing to have won three different grand slams, that’s something very special,” said Wawrinka.
“Every year I try my best at Wimbledon, in the grass court season so far I haven’t played as good as I have on the rest of the surfaces but I’m still pushing for finding my best game on that surface so we’ll see this year.”
Last year, Wawrinka enlisted the help of former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek to work alongside his full-time coach Magnus Norman during the grass season in order to improve on his form on the surface.
The partnership lasted just a few weeks and Krajicek is now working with Milos Raonic and his other coach Riccardo Piatti.
Asked if he’s considering to add a second coach in the future, Wawrinka said: “I think it was great with Richard there. I think it was also good because the idea came with Magnus, so we wanted both of them together just to sit, to have a different vision of my game, to see what we can improve and all.
“If that’s going to happen again, I honestly don’t know. Right now we’re not talking about it yet but maybe…”
Wawrinka has hit the practice courts with Federer in Dubai before the tournament started and he praised his fellow Swiss on his remarkable Australian Open triumph.
“I watched all of the final, like everybody. It was amazing, amazing to see them playing in the final again. It’s always a special match when Roger and Rafa (Nadal) play each other because they played each other so many times. I think the level was really good, the way Roger came back in the fifth was something special,” said Wawrinka.
What was the reaction like in Switzerland?
“Same as the rest of the world, everybody was happy for Roger,” replied Wawrinka.
“After six months out it’s something very impressive to win a grand slam in your first tournament back.”
Andy Murray is bracing himself for a tricky opener in Dubai today where he takes on Arab No1 Malek Jaziri for the first time.
The world No1 made his first competitive appearance since his Australian Open fourth round exit last month yesterday in doubles, losing 6-1, 7-6 (2) alongside Nenad Zimonjic to Dan Evans and Gilles Muller.
He makes his singles return tonight against Tunisia’s Jaziri, who is the highest-ranked Arab No51 in the world.
“I know Malek fairly well,” Murray told reporters in Dubai.
“I’ve never played with him and I’ve never practiced with him. But I’ve seen him play, he’s very talented. He plays with a lot of slice backhands, quite aggressive on the forehand. He’s played this event on a number of years, I think he quite likes the conditions here.”
Jaziri gets strong support in the UAE from the Arab contingency residing here and previously reached the quarter-finals in Dubai in 2014. The 33-year-old has started the year well, making the third round at the Australian Open, where he lost to Murray’s conqueror, Mischa Zverev.
“I think it’s a good match for me. Every year I play the No1 here in Dubai, I played Federer, I played Novak and now Murray… so it’s a good opportunity. I’m playing my best game ranking right now, I’m No47 in the world (down to 51 yesterday). I’ll prepare with my coach and we’ll see how it goes,” Jaziri told Sport360.
One player who is not focused on his ranking too much is Murray. The top seed is entering a stretch of tournaments where he is only defending 90 points until Monte Carlo in April and can widen the gap between himself and second-ranked Novak Djokovic but Murray insists keeping the No1 spot is not his top priority.
“I don’t need to stay at No1,” said the 29-year-old Brit.
“Nothing bad happens if I fall to No2. My life is okay, no one dies, it’s all good. But I want to try and stay there, I’m motivated to try and do that. The way that the end of last season worked, I played so much tennis – I don’t think that’s necessarily a positive thing.
“If I could go back to last year, ideally I would have played better in the beginning part of the year in Indian Wells and Miami, that could have helped me later in the season. I want to try and play again good tennis at all of the events and not sort of have any drop-offs, which I did last year.
“That was between the Aussie Open and Monte Carlo, I won two matches on the tour in a good two and a half month period and I want to avoid that this year.”