A funny thing happened on the way through the draw…

I’m gearing up to emcee the 2014 Qatar ExxonMobil Open here in Doha, and we started with the draw ceremony this afternoon at the Four Seasons Hotel. With five top-10 ATP World Tour players choosing Qatar as their 2014 launching pad, this’ll be an amazingly competitive lead-up to the Australian Open, starting two weeks from Monday.

Reality check: The competitiveness has already begun. With the top two seeds, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer in place at the top and bottom of the draw, chip-selection continued to complete the field. Among the remaining seeded players…Andy Murray, Richard Gasquet and Fernando Verdasco landed in Ferrer’s half of the draw, while Tomas Berdych, Philip Kohlschreiber and Ernests Gulbis joined Nadal’s half.

The next selection determined who would play Rafael Nadal in the first round, and Ernests Gulbis was given the honor of selecting a chip from the bowl. He pulled Lukas Rosol’s name…who just happened to be seated two chairs away. (Too funny). Ernests offered a fist-bump, which was of course pushed away and completely denied by the Czeck. That said, most are aware that Rosol was the man who defeated Nadal during first-round play at Wimbledon in 2012; Rafa’s last match before 9-months of knee rehab, followed by a wildly successful 2013.

Three qualifiers alone rest in Berdych and Kohlschreiber’s quarter, though Tomas drew the hard-serving Ivo Karlovic in the first round. Defending champion Richard Gasquet could face countryman Gael Monfils in the Round of 16, while it looks like a definite Andy Murray vs. Fernando Verdasco Quarterfinal.

Provided the Rosol-factor doesn’t trip him up, this could be Nadal’s year in Doha. He has yet to win the singles title here, though he’s won the doubles title three-times – twice with Marc Lopez and once with Albert Costa. This year, Nadal will play doubles with coach Francisco Roig; they’ll face the team of Rosol and Andujar in the first round. Lucky Lukas!

Here’s the full singles draw / and the doubles draw

I’ll host the Player’s Dinner tomorrow night, and matches begin Monday at 3:30p local time at Doha’s Khalifa International Squash and Tennis Complex. We’re looking forward to a memorable start of 2014 on the ATP World Tour here at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open. Hope you can watch some of the action!