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Djokovic, Federer Spearhead Elite ATP Field in Dubai

Feb 23rd 2014

Since Fabrice Santoro won the Dubai tournament in 2002, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have combined to claim nine of the last 11 titles there.  This ATP 500 event regularly features a strong cast of seeds, thanks in part to generous appearance fees.  In the week before Indian Wells, both Djokovic and Federer look to sharpen their games on outdoor hard courts with a strenuous month of March ahead.

Novak Djokovic

Top half:  Last seen losing an epic battle with Stanislas Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic makes his first appearance since the Australian Open.  A first-round clash with Denis Istomin should offer a battle of crisp two-handed backhands.  Istomin won a set and nearly a match from Djokovic at the Rogers Cup last summer, so he may pose a greater threat to the Serb than sixth seed Mikhail Youzhny.  Surely still elated by his Davis Cup heroics for Great Britain, James Ward received a wildcard to Dubai.  He will hope to build on his January momentum, as will Roberto Bautista Agut after a trip to the second week of the Australian Open.

Djokovic and Roger Federer may have dominated Dubai over the last decade, but only one of these champions can reach the final.  Federer’s draw looks the tamer of the two overall, although 2013 nemesis Daniel Brands lurks.  A first-round meeting of giant-killers pits Brands, who upset Federer last summer, against Lukas Rosol, forever famous for upsetting Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012.  While Michael Russell reached a surprise semifinal in Memphis this month, American fans cannot expect the same of this 35-year-old veteran in a stronger field.  Eighth seed Dmitry Tursunov will seek his second straight Dubai quarterfinal, but a three-match losing streak doesn’t bode well for his fortunes.

Bottom half:  Most of the action in the lower half revolves around the bold-faced names.  Bookending the third quarter are two men who already have won titles in February.  Australian Open semifinalist Tomas Berdych has reeled off seven straight wins, including a charge through an ATP 500 draw in Rotterdam.  Berdych silenced explosive shot-makers Jerzy Janowicz and Ernests Gulbis there, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reached the Marseille final last week.  A former finalist in Dubai, Berdych has won four of their six meetings, but the last three have reached a final set. 

The softest section of the Dubai draw belongs to the man who may need it most.  Unimpressive at the Australian Open, Juan Martin del Potro returned from a wrist injury at Rotterdam with modest form.  Two wildcards near him should give del Potro time to settle into the draw, although Rotterdam semifinalist Igor Sijsling will have the belief that he can score an upset.  The weight and depth of del Potro’s should carry him past the other players in this section, such as Philipp Kohlschreiber, if he can rediscover his best tennis.  This former US Open champion will need his best tennis soon as he prepares to defend finalist points at Indian Wells.

Check back shortly for a look at the Acapulco draw, featuring David Ferrer and Andy Murray.