Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has been forced to withdraw from the eighth Mubadala World Tennis Championship due to an injury to his right forearm.
World number 17 Feliciano Lopez will now compete in the fifth and sixth place play-off against South Africa’s Kevin Anderson on Friday.
Lopez arrives in Abu Dhabi off the back of a season that saw him reach the quarter-finals of the US Open for the first time in his career, where he eventually succumbed to the power of world number 1 Novak Djokovic.
His appearance at Flushing Meadows marked his 55th consecutive outing in a Grand Slam main draw and he enters 2016 with an impressive 33 wins over top 10 players.
Following Lopez vs Anderson, the New Year celebrations will continue with a Spanish showdown between an in-form David Ferrer and 14-time Grand Slam winner, Rafael Nadal.
New Year’s Day at Zayed Sports City will come to a close with the third match of the day when Milos Raonic takes on reigning French Open champ, Stan Wawrinka.
BREAKING: Feliciano Lopez replaces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga @MubadalaTennis. More to follow…
— Sport360° (@Sport360) January 1, 2016
World number 7 David Ferrer dispatched French favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets and Canada’s Milos Raonic beat world number 12 Kevin Anderson on day one of the 2016 Mubadala World Tennis Championships on Thursday.
In the first match of the three day tournament, Ferrer showed all his class to push past Tsonga in an entertaining opener. With both players settling quickly in the opening exchanges and the first three games going with serve, it was Ferrer who took the initiative by registering an early break and accelerating through the games.
Taking the first set 6-1 Ferrer looked pacy, agile and hungry for victory as he battered back definitive returns to every one of Tsonga’s intelligently placed shots. After laying down a firm marker in the first, it was more of the same from Ferrer in the second set as he won the first five games before sealing victory 6-1, 6-1.
The comprehensive win sets up a highly anticipated all-Spanish semi-final on day two against fourteen-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s not easy, the first match of the new season but I am happy with the result. That said, I think it’s fair to say it wasn’t Jo’s best day today. I’ve benefitted from time in Valencia pre-season with a lot of fitness and feel I’m getting better all the time,” said Ferrer.
“It’s good for me to be able to test myself against Rafa tomorrow and be able to improve and work some things. I’m guaranteed another two matches now which is perfect and what all the players want and need at the beginning of the season.”
The second match of the tournament between Abu Dhabi debutants Anderson and Raonic was exactly the heavy hitting battle it promised.
The first six games of the match went with their respective big serves as the duo sounded each other out, but it was Raonic who was able to create the first opportunity, securing a break at 3-3 and powering to a 6-3 first set win.
— MWTC (@MubadalaTennis) December 31, 2015
In the second set Raonic again engineered the first break to move ahead 4-2, going on to win in straight sets 6-3, 6-4.
“It’s a great way to start the next season. I’m very happy and did the basics well – I served well and moved well, so it’s great,” said Raonic.
“I feel as close to 100% as I’ve been in a long time so that’s positive. That’s confirmation that the work I’ve done in the off season and I feel like I was improving all the time.”
Ahead of his semi-final clash with Stan Wawrinka, Raonic added: “It’s going to be a tough match and I’ve had poor results against him in the past. But it’s a new year and a new chance so I’m looking forward to it.
“I feel like if I do things right, return well, serve well, I think that’s where my tennis starts and if I can get it to be played on my terms I can do quite well.”
Sport360 asked former Wimbledon champion and Mubadala World Tennis Championship ambassador, Pat Cash, to make some predictions on what 2016 may hold for the six stars of the Abu Dhabi tournament. Here’s what the Aussie legend had to say…
He had a great year last year. He used to be an outside chance, I think now he has a real chance at every grand slam. Wimbledon is the one where he hasn’t performed well at, I don’t quite understand why, he’s actually got a good game for the grass. So he could breakthrough there. But I think we’ll see him in a grand slam final again this year, at least.
I’d think he’ll do better this year in general. I think the French Open is obviously one that he can still win. It will be interesting to see how he goes. Possibly there’s a Slam for him this year but you just don’t know. He didn’t have a great year last year but his confidence is starting to come back, especially the French Open, I think he’ll be a real threat there. I wouldn’t put him favourite, but he has such a great record, even if he’s not playing great he’ll still be a real danger. He’s a potential French Open champion there, but we’ll have to see how the form goes.
The Olympics and everything coming up, it’s a tough year for the players. David has performed really well at all the grand slams. I think he’s one of those guys who can take the opportunity when it comes. If it props up there, he’ll be ready to jump on it. Will he end the year in the top 10 again? He’ll go very close again. It’s amazing how well he’s done. His consistency is his strength. Every year he’s hard to beat and he finished off the season quite well last year so I’ve got a feeling he’ll do okay.
For Jo it’s all about injuries. If he can stay physically fit, he has massive power and is a real danger to all the players. His consistency has been up and down because of these injuries. It really makes it really tough to get into form and get physically and mentally hardened and that’s always been his issue. Where he’d play well then he’d be out for three or six months. I know exactly what that’s like because I was like that myself, it’s very hard to stay consistent. But he’s another player who is a danger.
He’s one of the success stories of last year. I remember seeing him five or six years ago thinking he’s just a big guy with a serve and he’s going to fall by the wayside like a lot of these players do. But he’s a very very good athlete, extremely hard-worker. Obviously has a massive serve and a big forehand.
Tactically he’s improving all the time and he’s getting more and more confidence. As he develops his confidence, he’s becoming a real danger man who can knock just about anybody off now. I think beating Murray at the US Open was big for him. Murray didn’t play his best tennis but he wasn’t allowed to.
Anderson is a real role model for a lot of kids because he’s showing that if you work hard and you’ve got a big weapon, you keep improving it – he’s a big guy and moves really well for a big guy. He was not far away from beating Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. He’s a confident guy and I see him pushing into grand slam semi-finals.
Another guy who had a year interrupted with injuries. He’s had a bit of time so I think he’s been careful to get himself back. You’d think naturally he’d be most dangerous on grass, because of his serve – he will be dangerous there – but when the courts are quick, sometimes those big guys need a little bit more time to get to the ball. I think he’s dangerous on every surface. You’d think somewhere like the US Open where he can get a lot of bounce off his serve… I wouldn’t expect too much of him early on, I think he needs a few matches to get going.
But he grew up playing on hard court, he can start getting pretty dangerous at Indian Wells and Miami, where the ball is bouncing. His game is more than his serve. He has a massive forehand, a very good backhand, his volleys are a work in progress, his attacking play, but he’s quite competent around the net, his technique is quite good. He’s just a real danger with that serve. With a serve like that, it can get ugly tennis but he wins a lot of matches that way and that’s what it’s about – winning matches.