The stage is set for the 24th edition of the iconic ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships as the top players in the world get set to fight it out on the Hard Courts at the Aviation Club Tennis Centre. One of the most popular events at the ATP World Tour 500 level is destined to enthrall all tennis fanatics across the globe with a strong field.
With reigning champion Roger Federer not participating in this year’s edition, all the focus will be on World No.1 Novak Djokovic. The Serb, who recently won a record sixth Australian Open title, will be looking to reclaim the title in Dubai.
Djokovic is currently on a 12-match winning streak from Doha and Melbourne. The Top Seed, who is currently on a run of 7 consecutive titles and 17 finals, will be attempting to become only the second man to reach the finals of 18 consecutive events, after Ivan Lendl. He will also be looking to become the fourth man to win 8 consecutive tournaments, after Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Lendl. Other contenders include defending French Open Champion Stan Wawrinka who is seeded 2nd and former finalist Tomas Berdych.
To whet the appetite, Sport360 breaks down the facts, figures and stats from the tournament’s rich history.
1993 – The first edition of the Dubai Tennis Championships was played at the Aviation Club in 1993 as an ATP 250 event. Czech Karel Novacek was the winner of the inaugural edition, defeating Frenchman Fabrice Santoro in the final.
1996 – The event was played at the newly erected Dubai Tennis Stadium, which can accommodate 5,000 spectators.
2001 – ATP upgraded the tournament from a 250 level to a more reputable 500 level event.
$2.25 Million – The total prize purse for the event with close to $500,000 on offer for the eventual champion.
11 – Times in 12 years the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships has been voted as the best ATP World Tour 500 Tournament (2003-06, 2008-14).
2 – Only two players other Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic have won the event since Federer’s first title back in 2003 (d. Jiri Novak) – Rafael Nadal (2006) and Andy Roddick (2008).
Younes El Aynaoui – is the only player from an Arab Country (Morocco) to make the final of the DTC (losing to Santoro in 2002).
7 – Federer is the all-time leader with 7 titles at the Aviation Club Tennis Centre (2003-05, 2007, 2012, 2014-15). Djokovic, who has won the event on 4 occasions (2009-11, 2013), follows him. Roger and Novak are the only players to have won multiple titles in Dubai.
9 – Federer has played in a record 9 finals at this ATP 500 event, including a record 5 consecutive finals (2003-07, 2011-12, 2014-15). Djokovic has featured in 5 finals (2009-11, 2013, 2015).
47 – Matches won by Federer at the DTC. The Swiss Maestro owns a record 47-5 (90.38%) win-loss record & has won close to $2.63 Million in prize money at the DTC.
34 – Matches won by Djokovic at the DTC. The Serbian owns a 34-5 (87.2%) win-loss record & has won close to $2.11 Million in prize money at the DTC.
14 – Russian Mikhail Youzhny will be making his 14th appearance in Dubai, the all-time record for most appearances in Dubai.
33 – The 2010 final was the longest final played at the DTC, featuring 33 games. Djokovic got the better of Youzhny in the final – 7-5, 5-7, 6-3.
12 – The 2001 final was the shortest final in the tournament history, featuring only 12 games. Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero got the better of Russian Marat Safin in the final – 6-2, 3-1 RET. Safin was forced to retire due a back injury.
33y 6m 16d – In 2015, Federer became the oldest winner at the DTC when he defeated Djokovic in a pulsating final. Federer is also the only 30+ winner of the event (2012, 2014-15).
19y 8m 25d – In 2006, Rafael Nadal became the youngest winner at the DTC when he defeated his greatest nemesis Federer in the final. Nadal is the only sub 20 winner of the event.
3 – Both Federer and Djokovic have managed to win a record 3 consecutive titles at the DTC (Federer: 2003-05; Djokovic: 2009-11).
19 – Federer managed to win 19 consecutive matches from 2003 to 2006, the best winning streak at the DTC. His run was ended by Nadal in the 2006 final. Djokovic won 18 matches from 2009 to 2012, before losing to Andy Murray in the 2012 SF.
The men’s Duabai Duty Free Tennis Championships singles draw produced some exciting clashes including Novak Djokovic versus Tommy Robredo and Martin Klizan against Nick Kyrgios to kick the tournament off.
Many of the tournament’s top-seeded players are going to have to acclimatise to Dubai’s conditions quickly, having come straight from the Masreille ATP indoor tournament where the cooler, indoor conditions are a stark contrast to those of the Middle East.
Here, Sport360 reporter Reem Abulleil analyses the draw, highlights which players to watch out for and predicts who will progress into the second round in Dubai.
Follow Sport360.com throughout the tournament for video analysis, reaction and interviews.
Sara Errani almost didn’t come to Dubai this week as she wasn’t feeling good about her game and felt like she needed a break.
She and her coach decided last-minute to come and compete anyway and she ended up winning the title, becoming the first-ever Italian champion at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday.
Errani not only won the title, she did by producing the most lopsided final result in the history of the women’s event in Dubai as she crushed Barbora Strycova, dropping just two games to lift the trophy.
The 28-year-old was in tears as she ran to hug her coach Pablo Lozano after capturing her first-ever Premier-level trophy – she was 0-4 in finals at that level entering the contest – with a 6-0, 6-2 victory in 66 minutes.
“It’s an unexpected title for me. It was a tough moment, tough year. So my coach is near me, so he helped me a lot. And he know how much we suffer,” an emotional Errani said after her match.
“So to win here is amazing. I mean, it’s such a good tournament. I come in here, we was thinking maybe to not come here, just stay home and recover and try to make it (my game) good.
“But we came here, and every day was really tough. Every match, from the beginning, from the 5-1 down in first round against Zheng (Saisai), and even in the quarter-final with (Madison) Brengle, a lot of tough moments. But of course if we won a tournament, you have to pass a lot of also bad moments.”
The former Roland Garros runner-up took her first title since Rio last year, and ninth overall, in brutal fashion, although she needed five match points to seal the deal.
The 22nd-ranked Errani extended her record lead against Strycova to a dominating 5-1 and her victory made her the second-lowest ranked champion in the history of the Dubai event, behind Venus Williams who was No44 when she won in 2014.
The combined ranking of the two finalists is 69, making it just the third time since 2001 (when the tournament began) the singles final in Dubai is contested by playing with a combined ranking of more than 60.
A clearly nervous Strycova went down 0-40 in her opening service game and double-faulted to get broken and Errani quickly went up 2-0. The Czech faced break points again in game three and sent a volley wide to go down a double-break.
Strycova netted an overhead to face a break point in game five and Errani showed no mercy, going up 5-0 in 21 minutes.
The world No47 got her first break point of the match in the sixth game as she tried hard to get on the board but there was no avoiding a bagel as she sent a forehand wide to surrender the set in 28 minutes.
Strycova hit 21 unforced errors against just six winners in that opening set.
Things didn’t get any better for Strycova in the second set as she sent an easy ball long to get broken in the first game. Before she served in the third game the crowd erupted as they urged her to hold and win a game which left Strycova laughing at the situation she was in.
The cheering worked as she finally held serve, albeit nine games into the contest.
But Errani remained unshakeable and extended her advantage to 6-0, 4-1.
Serving to stay in the match, Strycova saved a championship point before getting a game point with a sensational 18-shot rally that saw her outfox Errani at the net and seal the exchange with a backhand smash. The Czech capitalised on the opportunity and held to stay alive in the contest and make it 0-6, 2-5.
She saved three more match points in the next game but Errani took the title on her fifth chance as Strycova dumped the ball into the net.
The Italian WTA players have produced some impressive results of late with Flavia Pennetta beating her compatriot Roberta Vinci to win the US Open last September, Vinci making her top-10 debut this week thanks to her title in St. Petersburg last week, and now Errani finding her game on the hard courts of the Aviation Club.
Asked if she had an explanation for this Italian renaissance, Errani said: “I don’t know. We are four, (Francesca) Schiavone, Flavia, Robbie, and me, that maybe we help each other to take more and try more things and be confident to can do more things. We had unbelievable result, all four, and we help each other. I don’t really know what happens.”
On her part, Strycova can at least be pleased at the fact that she is having a positive 2016 so far having made the fourth round in Australia, beating Garbine Muguruza along the way, before reaching the Dubai final.
The Czech was disappointed nonetheless by her performance in the final.
Asked what went wrong for her on Saturday, she said: “Everything. I mean, this is one of the days where you try everything and then nothing is working. The funny thing is that I went on court and I didn’t feel really nervous about the match or something different.
“But I tried everything and I couldn’t put one ball in. I don’t know why, what happened, but it’s just sometimes how it is in tennis.”
Strycova had moments last year where she felt she wasn’t enjoying the sport and she admits this week has reignited her passion for tennis.
“I took so many things from this week. I mean, that I can believe in myself and in my game even if it’s not such – if I’m not playing fast or I’m playing like tricky game, that I can beat anybody,” said the 29-year-old Strycova.
“To believe that you can do it, it’s a good feeling. I beat Ana (Ivanovic), which I never beat before. This gave me so much confidence.
“I also took from this week that I enjoy tennis again. It’s nice to play the sport.”