Swiatek falls short again, Rublev rants and Murray bids farewell: Dubai Tennis takeaways

The biggest talking points from two weeks at the 2024 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

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Two weeks of top-tier tennis at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships concluded on Saturday evening when Ugo Humbert lifted the famous silver dhow trophy as the men's singles champion.

It was an action-packed fortnight involving plenty of shock results, drama, a likely farewell – and some controversy. Here are the takeaways from the 2024 tournaments.

A year for the underdog

In the first year that the WTA tournament held permanent Masters 1000 status, it was no surprise that the field was its most competitive ever. All of the "Big Four" – Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff, and Elena Rybakina – played in Dubai, as well as eight of the world's top 10, which would have been nine had Ons Jabeur not withdrawn with injury.

Yet, despite the tournament's immense strength in depth, it was not one of the tour's big stars who clinched the title, nor did any of them even reach the final. That was left to be contested by Italy's Jasmine Paolini – a one-time winner on the WTA Tour – and Russia's Anna Kalinskaya, who had to come through qualifying just to reach the main draw.

Kalinskaya was responsible for eliminating half of the Big Four herself, taking out Gauff and Swiatek in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, while Paolini was due to face Rybakina in the last eight only for the Kazakh to retire from the tournament. A hectic schedule that included the title in Abu Dhabi and a final in Doha in successive weeks finally caught up with the world No 4. Sabalenka, meanwhile, suffered a shock exit in the second round.

There may have been an absence of star power in the final, but it was still a riveting match, with Paolini fighting back to seal a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory.

It was a similar scenario at the ATP Tour tournament. Most would have expected a repeat of last year's final between the top two seeds, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev, but semi-final exits meant the match was played by Frenchman Humbert and Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik.

Humbert, the fifth seed, ultimately got his hands on the trophy, beating Bublik 6-4, 6-3, to complete an impressive week that included wins over Gael Monfils, Andy Murray, Hubert Hurkacz, and Medvedev.

It made the 2024 Dubai tournament a year for the underdog and demonstrated the strength in depth of both tours.

Rublev's controversial exit

What a pity for a player who has given so much to this tournament, and received so much in return, for it to end in the way it did. Rublev, the 2022 Dubai champion and finalist last year, was involved in a tightly contested semi-final with Bublik when he was disqualified from the tournament for allegedly using obscene language in an angry tirade at a line umpire.

Rublev tried to plead his case, insisting he was speaking in English and that he did not use any foul language in Russian, as claimed by the line umpire, but the official stuck to his story and the 26-year-old was defaulted from the match.

As a result, second seed Rublev was forced to give up his entire prize money from the tournament as well as any ranking points. He has received plenty of support from fellow players at the severity of the punishment, but that will be scant consolation as Rublev now drops outside the top five in the rankings.

With so much at stake, incidents like this will only increase calls for tennis to introduce its own VAR system. This will allow officials to take an objective view and reach the necessary conclusions once all sides have been assessed, rather than believing one person's word over the other.

Wait goes on for Swiatek and Medvedev

For the second straight year, world No 1 Swiatek had the opportunity to become just the third woman – after Martina Hingis in 2001 and Justine Henin in 2007 – to win the Qatar Open and Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships titles in the same year. The Pole was also seeking to be the first to achieve the feat since both tournaments attained Masters 1000 status.

Last year, Swiatek, who has won the past three Doha titles, fell just short by losing the Dubai final to Barbora Krejcikova, while this year she suffered a surprise loss to qualifier Kalinskaya in the semis. While this particular piece of history still eludes her, it should be a case of when rather than if Swiatek completes the double.

As for Medvedev, he arrived in Dubai aiming to defend a title for the first time in his career. For a player of his calibre who has won 20 tournaments, including the US Open, it's a curious anomaly that he's never gone back-to-back.

This year should have presented the ideal opportunity; in 2023, Medvedev won a hat-trick of tournaments in Rotterdam, Doha, and Dubai, but his exploits at the Australian Open – where he spent a record 24 hours and 17 minutes on court and lost a five-set final to Jannik Sinner – meant he skipped his Rotterdam and Doha title defences, to rest and recover from a minor foot injury, and made his return in Dubai.

However, a semi-final defeat to eventual champion Humbert means the wait goes on for Medvedev to finally retain a trophy. He will soon have another chance, at the Miami Open later this month, and again at the Rome Masters in May.

Murray's likely farewell

Dubai has probably seen the last of one of the greatest players of his generation. Andy Murray was comfortably eliminated in the second round by Humbert to continue his difficult start to the year, and he admitted afterwards that he is planning to stop playing after the summer.

That would probably mean an appropriate swansong at Wimbledon, where Murray won two of his three Grand Slam titles and ended a 77-year wait for a British male singles champion. There is also the possibility of the Paris Olympics, although he would struggle to make the Great Britain team at present, with Cameron Norrie, Dan Evans, and Jack Draper all ahead of him in the rankings.

Murray's struggles since attempting to extend his career following an extreme hip resurfacing procedure in 2019 have been well-documented, and it's evident his body will no longer allow him to compete at the remarkable heights of his prime.

The former world No 1 has made an enormous impact on tennis throughout his career, and Dubai has been no exception. A finalist in 2012, Murray won his sole Dubai title in 2017 at the back end of his time as the best player in the world and just before the troublesome hip injury took hold.

With his win over Denis Shapovalov in this year's first round, Murray became only the fifth male player – after Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andre Agassi, and Rafael Nadal – to win 500 matches on hard courts.

Talk of him tarnishing his legacy due to his current run of bad form is beyond laughable. No matter what happens between now and retirement in the next few months, Murray's place among the greats is safely secured.

Updated: March 03, 2024, 12:19 PM