Scouting Report: Djokovic Makes A Splash In Dubai
An executive summary of what every fan should know about the 2016 ATP World Tour season
Strong Fields in Dubai, Acapulco & Sao Paulo – The busiest month of the season comes to a close this week with 500 level tournaments in Dubai and Acapulco and the final Latin American clay court stop in Sao Paulo. Five of the Top 10 players in the Emirates ATP Rankings are in action, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic, No. 4 Stan Wawrinka and No. 8 Tomas Berdych competing in Dubai. No. 6 David Ferrer and No. 7 Kei Nishikori, last year’s finalists, lead the way in Acapulco. In Sao Paulo, Frenchman Benoit Paire is the top seed for the second time (’12 Los Angeles) in his career in an ATP World Tour tournament.
DUBAI DUTY FREE TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS (Dubai) – The 24th edition of the prestigious ATP World Tour 500 level tournament is highlighted by World No. 1 and four-time champ Novak Djokovic, who is playing his first tournament since capturing a record-tying sixth Australian Open title last month. The other seeds are: No. 2 Stan Wawrinka, No. 3 Tomas Berdych, No. 4 Roberto Bautista Agut, No. 5 Viktor Troicki, No. 6 Feliciano Lopez, No. 7 Martin Klizan and No. 8 Philipp Kohlschreiber. Since 2009, Djokovic or Federer have won the title. Federer, who withdrew due to a knee injury, owns the tournament record with seven titles.
Novak Eyes No. 700 – World No. 1 Novak Djokovic returns to the ATP World Tour for the first time since Jan. 31, when he defeated Andy Murray to claim a record-tying sixth Australian Open crown. The Serb, who is playing in Dubai for the 10th year in a row (34-5 record), is bidding to become the 12th player in the Open Era to win 700 career singles matches. He won Dubai titles in 2009-11 and 2013. He enters Dubai with 698 career wins at the ATP World Tour level. He is also trying to become the third active player to accomplish the feat, joining Roger Federer (1,067) and Rafael Nadal (775). Coach Boris Becker is also a member of the 700 wins club (713).
17 & Counting – Djokovic enters Dubai having reached 17 consecutive finals going back to last year’s Australian Open. During the streak, Djokovic has won 13 of 17 finals, including the last seven going back to the US Open in September. Djokovic has tied Federer’s mark of 17 finals in a row (2005-06) and is one final away from tying Ivan Lendl’s record of 18 straight in 1981-82.
400 Wins Milestone – While Djokovic is closing in on 700 career wins, Feliciano Lopez is one win away from 400 in his career. The 34-year-old Spaniard takes on countryman Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round.
Stan is Back – No. 2 seed Stan Wawrinka returns to Dubai for the first time since 2008 (1R, l. to Hernych). He made his debut 10 years ago, losing to Federer in the first round.
Berdych Makes 10th Appearance – No. 3 seed Tomas Berdych is making his 10th appearance in Dubai. The two-time finalist (2013-14), who has reached the semi-finals or better in four of the last five years, owns a 20-9 career record in Dubai.
Kyrgios Debut – Nick Kyrgios makes his Dubai debut against No. 7 Martin Klizan in the first round. The 20-year-old Aussie comes in after winning in Marseille (vs. Cilic) after posting back-to-back Top 10 wins over No. 10 Richard Gasquet (QF) and No. 8 Tomas Berdych (SF). He is the first first-time winner and youngest title winner on the ATP World Tour this season.
ABIERTO MEXICANO TELCEL (Acapulco) – One of the favourite destinations on the ATP World Tour is the Acapulco Princess Mundo Imperial, site of the ATP World Tour 500 level Abierto Mexicano Telcel. The tournament made the switch from red clay to blue hard courts in 2014 and this year’s field features attracted five Top 20 players, led by World No. 6 and reigning champion David Ferrer. The others include: No. 7 Kei Nishikori, No. 12 Marin Cilic, No. 19 Dominic Thiem and No. 20 Bernard Tomic. Rounding out the seeds are: Ivo Karlovic, Jeremy Chardy and Steve Johnson. Ferrer is eyeing a fifth Acapulco title after earning a three-peat from 2010-’12. The other former winner in the field is Grigor Dimitrov (2014).
Reigning Champ – Ferrer is making his 10th tournament appearance (29-5) and he is a four-time champion (2010-11-12, ’15). The 33-year-old Spaniard has won three or more titles at four tournaments in his career, including Acapulco three straight years from 2010-12.
Kei On A Roll – No. 2 seed Kei Nishikori comes into Acapulco after winning his fourth straight title in Memphis last Sunday (d. Fritz). The 26-year-old Japanese star is making his third appearance in Acapulco, having reached the second round in his 2012 debut and final last year (l. to Ferrer). Nishikori has a 9-2 match record on the season and last month he reached the quarter-finals in Brisbane (l. to Tomic) and at the Australian Open (l. to Djokovic).
Finalists Coming to Acapulco – Three players who reached ATP World Tour finals on Sunday are coming to Acapulco. Delray Beach finalists Sam Querrey and Rajeev Ram, both playing in their first final of the season, along with Marseille finalist Marin Cilic, are making the trip to Acapulco.
Ivo Eyes 300 – No. 6 seed Ivo Karlovic, who is the oldest player in the singles draw at 36 (turns 37 next Sunday), is one win away from 300 in his career. Karlovic has reached the quarter-finals here the last two years. The big-serving Croat has been slowed by a right knee injury and he’s looking for his first match win (0-3) of the season.
Late Bloomer – The oldest winner on the ATP World Tour this season is 35-year-old Victor Estrella Burgos, who repeated his title in Quito (d. Bellucci) two weeks ago. The Dominican Republic native is making his second appearance in Acapulco after a first-round exit last season.
Thiem Makes Debut – No. 4 seed Dominic Thiem, who captured his fourth career ATP World Tour title in Buenos Aires last Sunday (d. Almagro) and followed with a semi-final in Rio (l. to Pella), is making his debut in Acapulco. The 22-year-old Austrian has defeated the top two Spaniards, Rafael Nadal (Buenos Aires SF) and David Ferrer (Rio QF) the last two weeks.
BRASIL OPEN (Sao Paulo) – Sao Paulo is the site of one of two Brazilian tournaments on the ATP World Tour (Rio de Janeiro). There are six players in the Top 50 Emirates ATP Rankings in the field, led by top-seeded French wild card Benoit Paire, who is coming off a semi-final showing in Marseille (l. to Cilic). The other seeds are No. 2 Thomaz Bellucci, No. 3 Pablo Cuevas, No. 4 Federico Delbonis, No. 5 Albert Ramos-Vinolas, No. 6 Paolo Lorenzi, No. 7 Nicolas Almagro and No. 8 Pablo Andujar. There are three former winners in the field: defending champion Cuevas, 2014 title holder Delbonis and three-time champ (2008, ’11-12) Almagro.
Cuevas Defending Champ – The reigning champion is Pablo Cuevas, who defeated Italian qualifier Luca Vanni in a third set tie-break in last year’s final. He also was runner-up in Istanbul (l. to Federer).
Paire Top Seed – Wild card Benoit Paire returns to Sao Paulo for the first time since 2012 when he lost to David Nalbandian in the first round. This is the second time in Paire’s career he is the top seed in an ATP World Tour tournament. In 2012 in Los Angles, he lost in the second round (after bye, l. to Russell). He is coming off his second semi-final of the season in Marseille (d. No. 4 Wawrinka, l. to Cilic).
Spanish Success – Two years ago, Delbonis became the first Argentine tournament winner since Guillermo Canas won in Costa do Sauipe in 2007. Last year Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas won the title. Prior to 2014, Spaniards had won six straight titles in Sao Paulo from 2008-13, with Almagro winning three times
Almagro On the Rise – No. 7 seed Nicolas Almagro, who is a three-time Sao Paulo winner (2008, 2011-12), is nearing a return to the Top 50 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. The 30-year-old Spaniard was runner-up in Buenos Aires last week (l. to Thiem) and he lost to Nadal in the second round in Rio. He has jumped from 73 at the end of last year to 53. The last time he appeared in the Top 50 was Oct. 20, 2014 at No. 43.
Brazilian Title Hopes – There are three Brazilians in the main draw, led by No. 32 Thomaz Bellucci, No. 173 Guillerme Clezar and No. 338 Thiago Monteiro, who is coming off his first career ATP World Tour main draw match win Rio where he beat No. 9 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round (l. to Cuevas). Bellucci, who reached the final in 2009 (l. to Robredo), is making his ninth straight tournament appearance (13-8 record). Clezar is looking for his first career main draw match win (0-4) in Sao Paulo while Monteiro is making his tournament debut.
RANKINGS MOVERS (22 February, 2016)
Kei Nishikori 6 (+1 spot)
Tomas Berdych 7 (+1 spot)
Dominic Thiem 15 (+4 spots) – career high
Pablo Cuevas 27 (+18 spots)
Nick Kyrgios 33 (+8 spots)
Guido Pella 42 (+29 spots) – career high
Sam Querrey 43 (+18 spots)
Rajeev Ram 60 (+29 spots) – career high
Daniel Gimeno Traver 99 (+19 spots)
Dubai – Singles
Novak Djokovic – 698 wins
Feliciano Lopez – 399 wins
Sergiy Stakhovsky – 149 wins
Dubai – Doubles
Radek Stepanek – 299 wins
Ivan Dodig – 147 wins
Acapulco – Singles
Ivo Karlovic – 299 wins
Jeremy Chardy – 197 wins
Robin Haase – 149 wins
Acapulco – Doubles
Juan Sebastian Cabal – 148 wins
Rajeev Ram – 147 wins
Sao Paulo – Doubles
David Marrero – 197 wins
22 February – Andrey Kuznetsov (25)
24 February – Lleyton Hewitt (35)
27 February – Filip Krajinovic (24), Facundo Bagnis (26)
28 February – Ivo Karlovic (37)