Announcer for the 2021 Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Andy Taylor recaps Dominic Thiem’s gutsy, come-from-behind, Round of 16 victory over Australian Open Semifinalist Aslan Karatsev. While the Russian may be a new face to fans admiring his breakthrough season, Thiem knew Karatsev would be a brutal opening opponent. It’s been years since they sparred in Juniors, but Dominic got a taste of Aslan’s rocketing progress after a recent practice together in Austria.
I was up in the tie-break and then I lost it, which was not nice, but he helped me a little bit in that first game [of the second set]. I think he hit two double faults. After you lose a close set, it’s super important to have a good start in the next one. And that’s what I had. It was pretty fast, 3-0, and so I was positive again in my mind. I also loosened up a little bit and started to play better.
Dominic Thiem. Post match interview.
First ATP Tour-level meeting between these two talents.
This was the first Tour-level meeting between these two talents born a day apart (Dominic Thiem 3-Sep-1993 — Aslan Karatsev 4-Sep-1993). Frequent opponents on the junior circuit, they practiced together earlier this year in Vienna.
We played in juniors 10 or 11 years ago, and we also practiced in Vienna, so he wasn’t completely new to me. But he has raised his level so much in the past six months, especially last month in Australia.
Dominic Thiem – on Aslan Karatsev after the match.
 Dominic Thiem -04- (AUT) | Round of 16 Announcer Introduction
A Semifinalist here 3-years-ago, he returns to Doha as the World #4 and this year’s top-seed. Now a 4-time Major Finalist – in September, he captured his first Grand Slam Singles title at the US Open – coming back from 2-sets down to defeat Sascha Zverev in a thrilling, deciding-set tiebreak. Then in November, he capped the shortened season by reaching the championship match of ATP Finals for the second straight year. In all, he now owns 17 ATP Singles titles, is a 28-time Finalist, a 2-time Laver Cup Champion, and has been ranked as high as World #3. Back for his 4th Qatar ExxonMobil Open – From Austria, please welcome this year’s #1 seed, Dominic Thiem.
- R2 — W — [WC] Aslan Karatsev -45- (RUS) | Score: 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-2
- R1 — BYE
[WC] Aslan Karatsev -45- (RUS) | Round of 16 Announcer Introduction
Two months ago, right here in Doha – for the first time, he qualified for a Major – earning three victories on these courts to earn a spot in the main draw of the Australian Open. What happened next – blew everyone’s mind. After a lockdown in Melbourne, he helped Russia capture the 2021 ATP Cup. Then, in his Grand Slam debut – he upset World #9 Diego Schwartzman in Round-3 – Feliz Auger-Aliassime in Round-4 – then Grigor Dimitrov in the Quarters – becoming the first man in the Open Era to reach the Semifinals of a Major in his first Grand Slam main-draw appearance. Just 7-months-ago, he was the World #253. After Melbourne, he leapt to a career-high ranking of World #42. Mind blowing. Back in Doha where the magic began – from Russia, please welcome Aslan Karatsev.
- R2 — L —  Dominic Thiem -04- (AUT) | Score: 7-6(5), 3-6, 2-6
- R1 — W — [WC] Mubarak Shannan Zayid -NR- (QAT) | Score: 6-4, 6-0 | 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 typically happens 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.