Milos Raonic has set tennis crowds all over the world alight with his blistering, hard-hitting 125mph serve ever since bursting onto the scene in 2011 when he won his first ATP title.
His aggressive game and entertaining playing style has received plaudits from true greats including Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Novak Djokovic and now the Canadian is ready to stun tennis fans in Abu Dhabi as he makes his Mubadala World Tennis Championship debut between 31 December and 2 January.
In his first match at the International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City, Raonic will take on the South African Kevin Anderson in what will be an intriguing battle between the two debutants who are confirmed for the 2016 season season-opener.
Completing the star-studded line-up is 14-time Grand Slam winner and former World no.1 Rafael Nadal, reigning French Open champion Stan Wawrinka, pacey Spaniard David Ferrer and crowd favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Speaking ahead of his imminent Mubadala World Tennis Championship debut, Raonic said: “I’ve only heard positive things about this tournament and the city of Abu Dhabi, and looking at the line-up it is for sure going to be a challenging few days.
"It’s really great to be able to test yourself against world-class opponents before the new season and to play in new places, so I can’t wait to get ready for business.
"Hopefully I’ll get to see a lot of Canadian flags in the stands, and although it’s still early, I’ll definitely be looking for a strong performance.”
In addition to the coveted Mubadala World Tennis Championship trophy – whose previous claimants include Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – there is a $250,000 cash prize up for grabs in the capital.
For Raonic though, current world number 4, it is all about getting in perfect shape for his most important season yet.
“I’m excited for 2016, I must admit. I’m still young and still improving, and it's only been two years since I broke into the world’s top-10.
"My target is to add to my five ATP titles and to climb the rankings even further, but it’s also an Olympic year and I’m keen to do well in Rio. Hopefully Abu Dhabi can be the catalyst that I need to prepare for a big year.”
Raonic made his Olympic debut in London 2012 aged only 21, but despite playing the second-longest match of 66 games over three sets in Olympic history, he was knocked out by fellow Mubadala World Tennis Championship regular Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
In order for the prospect of a rematch against the Frenchman in Abu Dhabi to become reality, Raonic must first overcome Kevin Anderson in his opening match and then win a tantalizing semi-final showdown against Stan Wawrinka, while Tsonga needs to defeat David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal.
The Mubadala World Tennis Championship will take place from 31st December – 2nd January 2016 at the International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City.
Sport360 were granted behind-the-scenes access to Elina Svitolina's training session in Abu Dhabi as the World No.19 steps up her training ahead of the new season.
– SVITOLINA: Ukranian prepares for new season
– ABU DHABI: Zayed Sports City praises Mubadala event
The Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) is set to return to Abu Dhabi for the eighth time next week and its legacy is already starting to become apparent, according to Zayed Sports City general manager Barry Bremner.
Fans flocking to the International Tennis Centre in the capital’s sporting hub will be in for a treat this year, with capacity at the venue extended to 5,000 thanks to the latest refurbishment programme conducted by ZSC chiefs just in time for the tournament.
Rafael Nadal, a 14-time major winner, will be the leading force under the centre court lights at this year’s championship, which takes place from December 31 to January 2, and the Spaniard will be joined by teigning French Open champion Stan Wawrinka, Spanish machine David Ferrer, French fan favourite, Jo- Wilfried Tsonga, alongside huge-serving Abu Dhabi debutants Canadian Milos Raonic and South African Kevin Anderson.
“The quality of the players that come every year is phenomenal and what’s interesting this year is the new players coming through,” said Bremner.
“It’s a world-class facility and tournament. I think the players
enjoy their time here.
“They get left alone to enjoy their time, they don’t get pestered, the temperature is perfect and we’ve got all the facilities, we’ve got everything here.
“After seven years, we know what they want. They get used to us. We know them and treat them as family when they come here.”
Nadal, 29, was back-to-back MWTC champion in 2010 and 2011, winning his first crown against Swede Robin Soderling before retaining it with a win over old foe Roger Federer a year later.
And Bremner believes the growth of the tournament and the positive impact it has had on tennis in the UAE capital in that time has been startling.
Ace your New Year with me at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi! pic.twitter.com/PBx7CS0F1f
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) December 15, 2015
“We’ve seen a huge difference,” he said. “The facility started off with five tennis courts. That’s now moved to eight practice courts, centre court, four junior tennis courts, two padel tennis courts and four beach tennis courts.
“From a tennis point of view we employed PSS (Professional Sport Services), who are our exclusive academy, and the growth here has been phenomenal.
“We’ve seen two players enter the top 600 worldwide, one of whom Sanjana Sudhir is in the first year of an NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) scholarship in the US, while Nancy Fawzy is ranked 664th in the junior ITF (International Tennis federation) standings.
“We’re up to 35,000 people playing a year, which has grown by 21 per cent since 2013, and 44 per cent of our players are female.
“We’ve added two covered facilities for Emiratis or women who want to play in privacy which has proved popular and Emirati membership has grown to about 15 per cent of our players, which is parallel to the population and very good.”
Does Bremner have any advice for someone who will be attending the MWTC for the first time?
“It’s a great spectacle to watch,” he said. “There’s no bad seat in the house, you always feel like you’re sitting on top of the play and it’s a great social event. Bring the family and have a great day out.”