A few years back, as the then-three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic waded through another star-studded draw at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the Serbian was asked to rate the tournament.
“You have seven or eight of the top 10 players taking part in this event,” the world No 1 said. “That says enough.
“They are doing a great job in attracting the world’s best players. The people here are very kind, especially the people who are in charge of organisation here, and I am always welcomed like at home.”
That hospitality has kept Djokovic coming back to Dubai along with the world’s other top players. Roger Federer has been a regular and so has Andy Murray, and these three of the Big Four will be here this year when the men’s tournament begins in two weeks.
Rafael Nadal, the other member of the elite quartet, used to be a regular, but since the last of his knee surgeries he has preferred the clay courts of South America.
“For the 500 tournaments, it’s always the toughest during the year,” said Murray, who is making another bid to win a tournament that since 2003 has been dominated by the other members of the top tier, with Federer winning it six times, Djokovic four times and Nadal once.
The only outsider to take home the title these past 12 years was Andy Roddick in 2008, when he beat Nadal in the quarter-finals and Djokovic in the semi-finals. Murray had knocked out Federer in the first round.
Federer and Murray have faced each other 23 times since 2005, but that is the only time the two have met in the opening round of a tournament.
A year ago, tournament director Salah Tahlak said no more appearance money is given to players. But Dubai has other advantages, including the strength of competition and its place on the calendar – the last outdoor tournament in Eurasia ahead of the two Masters 1000 events in the United States.
Djokovic has advocated for Dubai’s promotion to a Masters 1000 event, the highest classification aside from a grand slam or world final. It is the players’ favourite 500 event and has won the ATP World Tour 500 Tournament of the Year award every year since 2003, save when Acapulco took that honour in 2007.
“It definitely deserves to have a 1000 event, in my opinion,” Djokovic said. “I think that many top players would agree with that fact because it’s such a strong event, and it also has the potential.
“I don’t know a single player who has played here and has a negative feeling about the tournament. On the contrary, everybody wishes that this tournament is played for a bit longer time, like we have Indian Wells and Miami.
“The people here definitely love tennis. There’s a lot of attendance, a lot of people coming to watch the event.”
The stadium is usually packed in both weeks, with the WTA event also attracting a strong field every year.
Nine women have won the Dubai title since 2001, and six of them have held the No 1 ranking at some time during their careers.
Two others have reached as high as No 2 while the lowest-ranked Dubai champion, Elena Dementieva, was once a world No 3 and reached two grand slam finals.
Four of those former champions – Venus Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Agnieszka Radwanska and Petra Kvitova – will be back here next week, hoping to add another big DDF trophy to their cabinet.
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