Announcer for the 2021 Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Andy Taylor was “thrown a curve” just minutes before the start of Day-3. Despite Richard Gasquet’s Round-1 victory the day prior, the 2013 Doha champion withdrew from his Round of 16 match with defending champion Andrey Rublev.
So, while Rublev advanced to the Quarterfinals without playing a single match (1st-Round BYE), tournament supervisor Thomas Karlberg moved the Doubles Quarterfinal featuring Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah versus Frederik Nielsen and Tim Puetz to center court. Oddly enough, that match ended early after a freak accident. Reaching for a backhand, Tim Puetz dropped his racquet, which bounced right back up in his face and opened a deep gash above his left eye. Click here for the Doubles Quarterfinal recap.
This would have been the first meeting between Richard Gasquet and Andrey Rublev.
Perspective: Andrey Rublev was 7-years-old when Richard Gasquet captured his first title in Nottingham (2005).
 Andrey Rublev -08- (RUS) | Round of 16 Announcer Introduction
The defending Qatar ExxonMobil Open Champion and 2-time Finalist; last year, he lifted Doha’s Falcon week-1 of the season – winning four straight matches, without dropping a set. Remarkably – he won 5 titles last year (despite the shortened season) – and climbed to a career high ranking of World #8, earning a spot in the year-end ATP Finals for the first time. This year – he’s at again. Week-1 in Melbourne, he went undefeated – anchoring Russia’s victory at the ATP Cup; and on Sunday night, captured his 4th consecutive ATP-500 title in Rotterdam. In all, he now owns 8 ATP Singles titles and is a 10-time Finalist. From Russia – please welcome the returning Qatar ExxonMobil Open Champion, Andrey Rublev.
- R2 — w/o — Richard Gasquet -50- (FRA)
- R1 — BYE
Richard Gasquet -50- (FRA) | Round of 16 Announcer Introduction
In 2013 – on this court – he came back from a set down in a thrilling championship match, defeating Nikolay Daveydenko to capture his 8th ATP Singles title. Now – eight years later – his list of career accomplishments…is astounding. A 31-time Finalist on Tour, he owns 15 career ATP Singles titles, is a 3-time Grand Slam Semifinalist, a Davis Cup Champion, an Olympic Bronze Medalist, and has been ranked as high as World #7. In all, he owns 33 victories over top-10 opponents – but his first, remains the most stunning. In 2005, at just 18-years-old, he upset World #1 Roger Federer in Monte Carlo to reach his first Masters-1000 Semifinal. From France, please welcome 2013 Doha Champion, Richard Gasquet.
- R2 — w/o —  Andrey Rublev -08- (RUS)
- R1 — W — [Q] Blaz Rola -163- (SLO) | Score: 6-4, 6-4 | RECAP
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.