Nikoloz Basilashvili earns 4th career, and first Doha title
Nikoloz Basilashvili ends pandemic drought to lift Doha's falcon
A week he’ll never forget. Nikoloz Basilashvili is the 2021 Qatar ExxonMobil Open champion. Tremendous accomplishment after a frustrating start to the season. The reality? Georgia’s top talent arrived in Qatar on a 5-match losing streak, and hadn’t earned a victory since week-1 of the season. In fact, ever since the global pandemic slammed the breaks on the 2020 season, Basilashvili couldn’t buy a win. He went 0-9 from August to November.
But that all changed in Doha. Early on, Basilashvili rekindled his confidence with wins over John Millman and Malek Jaziri. Then, he earned one of the most rewarding victories of his career; coming back from a set down, saving match-point to defeat Roger Federer in the Quarterfinals. With two more triumphs over Taylor Fritz and Roberto Bautista Agut in the Final, he now owns 4 ATP Singles titles. The week marks his longest win-streak since capturing the Hamburg title in 2019.
Meanwhile, Roberto Bautista Agut is now 9-1 on these courts since capturing the title in 2019. After top-10 victories this week over Dominic Thiem and defending champion Andrey Rublev, Roberto’s 2021 momentum endures. (He was also a Finalist in Montpellier just 2-weeks-ago)
Since 2014, Andy Taylor has been the Voice of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open
RUBLEV AND KARATSEV CAPTURE TITLE WITHOUT DROPPING A SET
Andrey Rublev continues to excel in Doha. In 2018, as a 20-year-old NextGen prodigy, the young Russian reached his second career ATP Singles Final on this court. Last year, he won both his Quarterfinal and Semifinal matches on the same day, then captured his 3rd career title. This year, Rublev arrived in Qatar on the heels of winning his 8th Singles title (Rotterdam), and 4th consecutive ATP-500 trophy. In just 3 short seasons, he’s become the most formidable threat on Tour.
Oddly enough – this week, Rublev didn’t launch his Doha title defense until the Semifinals. After a 1st-Round Singles Bye, Andrey’s Round of 16 and Quarterfinal opponents both withdrew. And although he fell in the Final-4 to Roberto Bautista Agut, the surging Russian still salvaged the week with relentless doubles victories alongside fellow ATP Cup Champion Aslan Karatsev. The victory marks Aslan’s first ATP Tour title – another impressive milestone after the upstart’s unexpected Semifinal run at the Australian Open as a qualifier; three qualifying victories he earned here in Doha back in January.
Recaps of the 20 matches played on Center Court
2021 Qatar ExxonMobil Open: Different Date. Unusual Reality.
In 2021, due to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, the ATP Tour rescheduled the Qatar ExxonMobil Open to take place the second week of March. A portion of the season typically carved-out for week-2 of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. When Indian Wells postponed its tournament due to COVID-19’s continued threat to the Coachella Valley, the Tour reinvented the 2021 calendar.
As a result, Delray Beach and Antalya hosted the season’s first events. Both ATP-250 tournaments, Delray is typically held in February – while Antalya is best-known for its grass event the week prior to Wimbledon. From there, Australian Open qualifiers played three rounds in Doha, while main-draw entrants traveled to Australia for two weeks of quarantine. Meanwhile, Tennis Australia moved the Australian Open to the second week of February, to accommodate the country’s strict pandemic protocols. Immediately following quarantine, Melbourne Park hosted several new lead-up tournaments along with the ATP Cup. After Oz, the Tour then staged five events over the next two weeks (Singapore-250, Cordoba-250, Montpellier-250, Rotterdam-500 and Buenos Aires-250), before Doha-250 and Montpellier-250 shared center stage on March 8th.
Doha: Back to a Week-1 Event in 2022.
Provided there are no further set-backs with the global pandemic, next year the Qatar ExxonMobil Open should return to it’s week-1 position on the calendar. Like in 2020, it will launch the season alongside the ATP Cup, played in venues across Australia.
Coronavirus: Delivering a top-shelf international event responsibly
While the Qatar Tennis Federation allowed fans to attend the 2021 Qatar ExxonMobil Open; the QTF sold tickets at reduced capacity. All wore masks, encountered temperature checks upon arrival, and adhered to social-distancing guidelines – required to sit several seats apart.
Players, ATP staff and umpires lived in their own “bubble” at the Four Seasons. Meanwhile, tournament support, lines-people, ball persons and the announcer stayed in a separate “bubble” at Ezdan Palace. All underwent routine coronavirus testing and regular temperature checks. Everyone wore masks at all times (except players and umpires during competition). The locker-room was off-limits for the athletes until their match was on-deck, and none were allowed to shower on site. Every aspect of post-match recovery took place at the player hotel.
Pandemic Event Hosting: Champions adjust
From behind-the-scenes pandemic protocols to extreme “socially-distanced” announcer interviews and trophy presentations – the Qatar Tennis Federation and ATP Tour adhered to every science-guided precaution to ensure the safety of all involved. And by doing so, despite all of the obvious challenges, delivered another top-shelf experience for both players and fans on site and those watching around the world.
Hosting high-profile international events during a devastating pandemic is possible. That is, when organizers have the courage, compassion and ingenuity to reinvent the way things are done; when they have the flexibility and financial support to adjust expectation. And as we’ve all learned after one year of separation, isolation, anxiety and heart-break: the “escape” that televised sports provides is invaluable to mental health. A welcome distraction to a very un-welcome new reality.