Doha 2017: Day-1. Novak’s Slow Start

Photo: Marius Borning. Match #1. Qatar ExxonMobil Open 2017
Day-1 of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open 2017 started with fans’ first glimpse of the World #1, Andy Murray. While the result wasn’t necessarily what fans had hoped, it was a nice touch to launch the 25th anniversary of the event with the Tour’s top banana. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic nearly gave fans a heart-attack, falling behind 1-5 in the first set to World #63 Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany. In classic Novak fashion, he played his best tennis with his back against the wall and vaulted back to take the first set in a tie-break, then earned the win 6-3 in set-2. David Goffin and Fernando Verdasco were also winners on center court Monday night, but I had to skip-out to host the Player’s Dinner Gala at the Four Seasons.

D. Marrero / N. Zimonjic d M. Fyrstenberg / A. Murray 62 64

40-year-old living legend Nenad Zimonjic and David Marrero, pairing for the first time, were simply too solid down the stretch for Murray and Fyrstenberg. Marrero was unreal, on-serve and with the return. After Nenad and David took the first set 6-2, both teams held through 3-all in the second. Fyrstenberg was broken first, but Zimonjic fell right behind him. At 4-all, Zimonjic and Marrero were down 30-0, but two killer unforced errors from Mariusz Fyrstenberg opened the door. The Serb and Spaniard scored the third consecutive break, then David served out the win. After the match, we had some laughs on court with the guys, then Nenad brought his kids out to hit a few balls with young members of the Qatar National Team.
FACT: The Zimonjic kids have some serious skills.
 

[2] N. Djokovic (SRB) d J. Struff (GER) 76(1) 63

“What the hell is happening?” A common phrase uttered during the first set of the defending champion’s opener with Jan-Lennard Struff. In a blink, Novak was down 1-5. BUT…Jan missed two opportunities to serve for the set, then Novak crushed him in the tie-break. In set-2, Djokovic broke to open, then held – essentially winning 8 consecutive games since falling behind 1-5. It was a remarkable – though not unexpected – turn-around. The World #2 would finally earn the win with his return 6-3.

Novak Djokovic. An interview after the match

[4] D. Goffin (BEL) d R. Haase (NED) 76(4) 62

Fresh off a pair of wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, World #11 David Goffin was pushed to a tie-break by Robin Haase in set-1. He’d win it 7-4, then breeze through to the Round of 16 with a 6-2 win in the second.
 

F. Verdasco (ESP) d [Q] V. Pospisil (CAN) 75 60

Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, who now calls Doha home, earned a quick victory over Qualifier Vasek Pospisil. The Canadian, who was ranked as high as #25 in the world 3-years-ago, has fallen to World #133 as his singles struggles continue. Verdasco swept Vasek 6-0 in the second to make it an early night.

While it was an early night for the crew at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, I was with the rest of our team hosting the annual Player’s Dinner Gala. It was actually a great time, with a mind-blowing performance by mentalist Oz Pearlman (America’s Got Talent). You can see some photos and read all about the Player Dinner here.