Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be returning to Abu Dhabi this December while Kevin Anderson is set to make his debut in the capital as the pair were announced as the final two players to round up the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) line-up.
French crowd favourite Tsonga and South African big-server Anderson join Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Milos Raonic as the Abu Dhabi ‘Super Six’ who will battle it out from December 31 to January 2 at Zayed Sports City's International Tennis Centre.
Tsonga, ranked No10 in the world, will be making his fourth appearance in eight editions of the MWTC.
The 30-year-old was forced to miss the start of the 2015 season due to a forearm strain which ruled him out of the Australian Open, but returned to the ATP top-10 last month following a semi-final appearance at Roland Garros, a quarter-final showing at the US Open and, most recently, placing runner-up at the Shanghai Masters.
“I am really enjoying my tennis, feeling good and there is a lot to look forward to,” said Tsonga, a former Australian Open runner-up.
“Abu Dhabi is a tournament which can kick-start my season right from the beginning so I’m excited for the challenge.
"In previous years of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship I’ve met so many supportive fans and, young people who are passionate about tennis and it’s great to see the enthusiasm for the sport.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to the UAE capital and seeing the fans again. It’s looking like another exciting year of tennis for the UAE crowds and what better way for them to celebrate the New Year."
Meanwhile Anderson, who made his top-10 debut last month and is currently ranked No12, has enjoyed a tremendous 2015 where he reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time after upsetting Andy Murray at the US Open.
“I’ve heard a lot about the Mubadala World Tennis Championship and seen that it’s a great place for players to start the season with top competition,” said the 203cm-tall Anderson, who was nominated for the ATP Fan Favourite Award this season.
“The line-up is really strong, really competitive and to go head-to-head with the likes of Milos, Rafa, Stan, Jo and David is the best way to get up to speed for the season. With such a strong line-up, the on court battles will be extremely competitive. I’ll be hoping to see some South African flags out there giving me support.”
Tickets for the MWTC are currently on sale at www.ticketmaster.ae and all Virgin Megastores. Alternatively, they can be purchased by calling 800 TMUAE (86 823) or +971 4 3662289 for International calls.
Alexandra Panova started her year by squandering two match points en route to losing to superstar compatriot Maria Sharapova 7-5 in the third set in the second round of the Australian Open.
This week, the Russian world No135 will be looking to finish her season on a high with a good showing at the 18th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge in Dubai.
Panova, who won the doubles title at the ITF $75K event in Dubai last year alongside Vitalia Diatchenko, is seeded No3 at the Habtoor Grand resort this week.
In the first round, the draw gods have pit her against Ukrainian Nadiia Kichenok, the woman who beat her in the singles quarter-finals here in 2014.
“My mentality is positive, let’s make it better this time, there’s a chance for improvement,” Panova told Sport360 about her rematch with Kichenok.
“I enjoy this tournament. It’s always good to get some sun at the end of the year when it’s already cold everywhere. And just play in a quite relaxed atmosphere. And my team can relax while I’m working, so it’s good.”
Panova, who reached her highest ranking at No71 back in 2012, admits that her match with Sharapova last January still haunts her and she actually walks around with a copy of the video of the three-setter in her bag.
“I actually still have the memory card of the match in my bag. It’s my lucky charm,” Panova said laughing.
“I’ve seen it many times. I kept looking at it, but my coach said ‘there’s nothing you could have done, Maria’s a great champion and that’s what she does, she goes for everything’.
“I’ve had a couple of injuries unfortunately after that good start to the year. It’s been going down, I got many losses.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) November 8, 2015
“I made it back, and qualified for the US Open and had a really hard match against Monica Niculescu, who was a winner here in Dubai before. It’s been getting better, I’m healthy and that’s what is important.”
Panova’s fellow Russians, led by Sharapova, have a big weekend coming up as they take on the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup final in Prague.
“We’re playing against someone who likes to win this title. I think the Czechs are the favourites but we’re going to fight and hopefully the spirit will help us,” said Panova.
The draw, which was revealed Sunday, sees No6 seed Cagla Buyukakcay take on the other Kichenok twin, Lyudmyla, in the opening round while second-seeded Klara Koukalova faces a qualifier.
The main draw action of the 18th edition of the Habtoor Tennis Challenge commences Monday.
Defending champion and top seed, world No57 Alexandra Dulgheru has been trying to fly from Bucharest to Dubai for the past three days but has been stopped at the airport because she is holding a temporary passport and will be ineligible for a visa upon arrival without a permanent one.
Authorities in the UAE have been trying to sort out the issue but it is unclear whether the Romanian will make it in time for the tournament.
Meanwhile in qualifying action, the Gulf region’s top player, Fatma Al Nabhani of Oman, advanced to the third and final round of qualifying with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Serbia’s Sofia Sabljarevic and will take on Maria Marfutina on Monday for a place in the main draw.
Gold Badge Iranian-born American umpire Ali Nili, who officiated the Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer this year, leads a group of six internationally-certified umpires who will be working at the tournament.
Matches start at 11:00 daily with the final scheduled for Saturday November 14.
Novak Djokovic will meet Andy Murray in the BNP Paribas Paris Masters final on Sunday after the Serb exacted a measure of revenge on Stanislas Wawrinka in the French capital.
Wawrinka was the only man to defeat the world number one in a grand-slam event this year, in the French Open final at Roland Garros five months ago.
However, he was unable to clinch another Parisian success on Saturday night as Djokovic claimed a 6-3 3-6 6-0 win to advance to his 14th successive final and to the verge of his 10th title of the season.
The Swiss had sipped coffee during a gruelling quarter-final clash with Rafael Nadal that finished in the early hours of Saturday morning and he appeared fatigued against Djokovic early on.
— Sky Sports Tennis (@SkySportsTennis) November 7, 2015
The Serb broke early to claim a 3-1 lead and did not face a single break point in cruising to a first-set success.
The second set appeared to be following a similar script when Djokovic claimed another early advantage but, when the Serb was serving to go 3-1 up, a jaded Wawrinka drank from a bottle of water near the advertising hoardings and rallied with back-to-back breaks, the first coming at the fifth attempt to go 4-2 up.
He then fought back from 15-40 down on his own serve to win a fifth successive game before serving to love to level it up at one set apiece.
Djokovic returned in emphatic fashion in the last-set decider, though, as Wawrinka ran out of steam, lashing a forehand way beyond the baseline to confirm the world number one’s victory.
He will face Murray in Sunday’s final after the Briton defeated David Ferrer in straight sets earlier in the day.
It will be the seventh meeting between the two in 2015, with the Briton’s sole success during that time coming in the Rogers Cup final in Toronto in August.