Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships ready to welcome Australian Open winners Novak Djokovic, Sofia Kenin

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Novak Sophia Dubai

Staff Report

Australian Open champions Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin will headline a fantastic fortnight of tennis action when the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships gets underway on 17th February.

Djokovic, who will be seeking his fifth crown in Dubai, defeated Dominic Thiem on Sunday to earn a record eighth Australian Open title, a day after Sofia Kenin astounded everyone by claiming victory over former two-time Grand Slam winner Garbine Muguruza in a thrilling final.

With Ashleigh Barty winning Roland Garros, Simona Halep triumphant at Wimbledon, Bianca Andreescu claiming the US Open title and Sofia Kenin lifting the Australian Open trophy, all four reigning Grand Slam holders will be bidding to add the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships crown to their long list of successes over the past year.

“What better way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the WTA in Dubai than by having all four Grand Slam champions here,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO, Dubai Duty Free. “We congratulate Sofia Kenin on playing so brilliantly to claim her maiden Grand Slam title, and Novak Djokovic on winning a remarkable eighth Australian Open. Although they made the biggest headlines, there were other spectacular successes throughout the past month by many other players who will shortly be competing in Dubai. We can look forward to a fortnight of outstanding competition.”

As well as champions Djokovic and Kenin, many other Dubai-bound players made the headlines while in Australia, none more so than eight-time Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships winner Roger Federer. Despite being hindered by a groin strain, he came through two of the most nail-biting battles of the 2020 Australian Open by dramatically winning the last six points of a final set tiebreak to defeat John Millman and then saving seven match points to overcome Tennys Sandgren before eventually losing to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals.

Roberto Bautista Agut, who will be bidding to reclaim the Dubai title he won in 2018, made a great start to 2020 by taking up where he left off at the end of last year. Then, he played a major part in Spain lifting the Davis Cup, and he began this season brilliantly as he didn’t drop a set in all six matches he played as he helped Spain to the final of the ATP Cup. He battled Marin Cilic for over four hours at the Australian Open before conceding their third round match 6-3 in the fifth.

Andrey Rublev also made a fantastic start to 2020 when he became the first man in 16 years to win back-to-back titles in the opening two weeks of the season, lifting the trophy in both Doha and Adelaide. He then reached the fourth round of the Australian Open where he was defeated by seventh seed and eventual semi-finalist Alexander Zverev.

Karen Khachanov could also be proud of his start to the season as he won four of his five matches in the ATP Cup, and then played a four-hour, 26-minute third round marathon against Nick Kyrgios at the Australian Open, finally losing 10-8 in a fifth set tiebreak. It was the longest match of the Australian’s career. Unheralded Hubert Hurkacz will also be one to watch in Dubai after a bright start to the season saw him win all three of his matches in the ATP Cup, including a victory over world number four Dominic Thiem, before reaching the semi-finals in Auckland.

World number one Ashleigh Barty emerged from the first month of the season with her head held high after becoming the first Australian woman to win a title on home soil in nine years with victory in the Adelaide International final, and she followed that up by becoming the first Australian woman to reach the Australian Open semi-finals since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.

Karolina Pliskova also made an impressive start to 2020, securing her third Brisbane International title to become the first three-time champion there while successfully defending a title for the first time in her career, and Dubai Duty Free international ambassador and former Dubai champion Simona Halep emerged from the Australian Open as the number two player in the world after a thrilling run to the semi-finals.

There were impressive performances too from Dyana Yastremska, who reached the final in Adelaide before falling to Ashleigh Barty, Amanda Anisimova who reached the Auckland semi-finals before losing to Serena Williams, Anett Kontaveit who reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open before losing to Simona Halep, and Danielle Collins who reached the semi-finals in Adelaide by beating Dubai champion Belinda Bencic and then stretching world number one Ashleigh Barty to 7-6 in the third.

Others who are competing in Dubai will be seeking to improve on their modest start to the new season. Stefanos Tsitsipas suffered a surprising third round exit at the Australian Open, two-time Dubai champion Elina Svitolina fell in the first round in Brisbane and the third round of the Australian Open, and Dubai defending champion Belinda Bencic failed to get beyond the third round in Melbourne.

“So many players that will shortly be on their way to Dubai have performed with great distinction in Australia and proved that they can challenge the very best,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “Sofia Kenin’s unexpected run to the Australian Open title especially underlines that even the very top players have no guarantee of success, something that has often proved to be the case at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. We can certainly look forward to a wonderful two weeks of thrills and upsets.” – abdulbasit@theuaenews.com