In a week Georgia’s top talent will never forget, Nikoloz Basilashvili constructed five determined victories; after a tremendously humbling start to the season. The reality? He arrived in Qatar on a 5-match losing streak. He hadn’t earned a victory since week-1 of the season in Antalya. In fact, since the coronavirus pandemic slammed the breaks on the 2020 season, he couldn’t buy a win. Nikoloz went 0-9 from August to November. Confidence crushing.
But that all changed this week. Early on, Basilashvili rekindled his game 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 has no reason to hang his head. The Spaniard is now 9-1 on these courts since capturing the title in 2019. Now an 18-time Finalist on Tour, tonight was Roberto’s second Final in just 14-days (Montpellier). After top-10 victories this week over Dominic Thiem and defending champion Andrey Rublev, Roberto should be proud of his enduring momentum.
Fifth meeting, determined straight-sets victory for Nikoloz Basilashvili.
Significant win for Basilashvili, after an unforgettable week in Doha. Bautista Agut has been a notoriously difficult opponent for the Georgian, requiring focus and discipline from first serve to match point. Like in Dubai two years ago, the margins were thin, and Nikoloz again proved he can sustain that level against Roberto’s machine-like consistency.
Nikoloz Basilashvili -42- (GEO) | Championship Announcer Introduction
Without fans at tournaments over the past 8-months, winning hasn’t come easy for Georgia’s top-talent. But that has all changed this week in Doha. This week, he earned his first four victories since January – including an unforgettable win over Roger Federer, saving match-point, coming back from a set-down to defeat the 3-time Doha champion in a deciding set. With last night’s straight-sets victory over Taylor Fritz, he is back in the championship match of an ATP Event for the first time since capturing the Hamburg title in 2019. In all, he owns 3 ATP-500 Singles titles, has been ranked as high as World #16 – and tonight, contests his 6th ATP Tour-level Final. From Georgia, making his Qatar ExxonMobil Open championship match debut, please welcome Nikoloz Basilashvili.
- FF — W —  Roberto Bautista Agut -13- (ESP) | Score: 7-6(5), 6-2
- SF — W — Taylor Fritz -33- (USA) | Score: 7-6(3), 6-1 | RECAP
- QF — W —  Roger Federer -06- (SUI) | Score: 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 | RECAP
- R2 — W — [WC] Malek Jaziri -262- (TUN) | Score: 6-2, 6-2 | COURT-B
- R1 — W — John Millman -41- (AUS) | Score: 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 | COURT-A
 Roberto Bautista Agut -13- (ESP) | Championship Announcer Introduction
Back in the championship match of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open – Two-years-ago on this court, he lifted Doha’s falcon during week-1 of the season, capturing his 9th ATP Tour Singles title. Tonight, he’s in pursuit of his 10th. During his run in 2019, he played one of the best matches of his career. Down a set and break against World #1 Novak Djokovic, he rallied back to earn victory in the decider – then defeated Tomas Berdych to claim the title. Later that year – he continued to excel – reaching his first Major Semifinal at Wimbledon, cracking the ATP’s top-10 for the first time, and leading Spain to the Davis Cup title in Madrid. Through to his 2nd Final this year – he reached the championship match in Montpellier just 2-weeks-ago. From Spain, please welcome 2019 Doha Champion, Roberto Bautista Agut.
- FF — L — Nikoloz Basilashvili -42- (GEO) | Score: 6-7(5), 2-6
- SF — W —  Andrey Rublev -08- (RUS) | Score: 6-3, 6-3 | RECAP
- QF — W —  Dominic Thiem -04- (AUT) | Score: 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-4 | RECAP
- R2 — W — Alexander Bublik -44- (KAZ) | Score: 6-4, 6-3 | COURT-A
- R1 — W — Reilly Opelka -39- (USA) | Score: 4-6, 6-3, 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 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.