With new champions in Elina Svitolona and Andy Murray, Ahmed Rizvi looks back on five things we learnt from the recently concluded Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
1). Murray showed he is the boss
Laid low by shingles following his return home from the Australian Open, Andy Murray battled rust and exhaustion in the early rounds before saving seven match points against Philipp Kohlschreiber in a memorable quarter-final. If you thought wearing the No 1 crown will weigh him down, that match should have dispelled all such notions.
Murray battled, like he always does, and survived to reach his 14th final in his last 16 tournaments. In the final, he showed – as one Scottish fan screamed from the stands – “who the boss is”.
Sir Andy, indeed, is the new boss of men’s tennis. He started the year with a 630-point lead over Novak Djokovic at the top of the standings. Now, after Dubai and Acapulco, that lead has increased to 2,215. With Murray defending only 90 points in the two upcoming Masters in Indian Wells and Miami – and Djokovic defending 2,000 – that lead is almost certain to grow.
2). Federer’s commitment issues
At the outset itself, Roger Federer had made it clear he is not the favourite here. “The break is too big for me to come in and just play like I did in Australia,” he had said. But try telling that to the fans.
They had filled the stands, hoping to see him win an eighth Dubai title, but Russian qualifier Evgeny Donskoy, ranked No 116 in the world, played spoilsport, stunning Federer in the second round.
Just as on the court, Federer looked short of answers in the press conference that followed and suggested he was probably short on the commitment side. “In the first round I was,” he said. “Today I wasn’t, really.”
Few should be surprised at that statement, though. Given his age and recent injuries, and also the fact he has won grand slam No 18 after a five-year wait in Australia, Federer will have such moments and matches in the coming months. His fans will just have to be realistic.
3). The 30s brigade rolls on
The 30-plus brigade refuse to go away. In Australia, two 35 years old – Federer and Serena Williams – won the title. Here, Fernando Verdasco (33) and Philipp Kohlschreiber (33) carried the torch for the 30-pluses. Verdasco, ranked No 35 in the world, defeated several younger, higher-ranked players such as Roberto Bautista Agut and Gael Monfils to make his first ATP World Tour 500 Series final on hard courts. World No 29 Kohlschreiber fell at the quarter-final stage, but won over the fans with his bold shot-making in the loss to Murray.
“For the moment, it is going well for us and hopefully we can be there for a few more years, fighting and giving a few bad days to the young guys,” Verdasco said earlier in the week. Not sure if the younger guys will really enjoy hearing that.
4). Svitolina is headed for the top
Elina Svitolina has already announced her ultimate goal is to be the No 1 player in the world and, on the evidence of her success in Dubai, few should doubt her credentials.
The Ukrainian, 22, looked the part as she marched through the field in Dubai, dropping only one set as she cruised to the biggest title of her career. In the semis, she was up against Angelique Kerber, who was looking to reclaim the No 1 ranking, and in the final, she found Doha finalist and former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki across the net, but Svitolina was in absolute control. If she keeps going at this rate, that top rank will not seem so distant in a few months’ time.
5). Bellis is a star in the making
In the quarter-finals against Wozniacki, the occasion probably got the better of Catherine Bellis, but the 17-year-old American has given enough evidence in the six months since turning pro that she is one for the future.
She has got tremendous self-belief and a game to match, and when both come together – like they did in the third round against Agnieszka Radwanska – Bellis can blow opponents off the court. So keep an eye on her – Bellis is set for a rapid rise.
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