Happy New Year from Doha! The first ATP World Tour event of the season, the Qatar ExxonMobil Open Qatar (QEMO), is underway here in the desert. It’s definitely an interesting vibe—a bit like spring training baseball. The players seem refreshed after their layoff and there’s a sense of optimism for the upcoming season. Will it be another year of the Big Four’s stranglehold on the majors? Or will another champion emerge?
The Qatar Tennis Federation (QTF) takes this week very seriously. This tournament is the richest of the ATP World Tour 250 events and the spending doesn’t stop with prize money. The media and fans are treated phenomenally and it’s clear that the Qataris see tennis as an opportunity to showcase this tiny Persian Gulf country on the global stage. Great pains are taken to roll out the red carpet for visiting players, fans, media and sponsors.
The fact that Roger Federer chose to skip the event this year and that Rafael Nadal pulled-out with continuing knee and/or stomach virus issues hasn’t seemed to dampen local enthusiasm. For all Doha’s hustle and bustle, there really isn’t a whole lot to do here so this is the main event in town. The city’s still primarily an international business hub, somewhat in the shadows, entertainment-wise, of it’s older cousin Dubai.
On to tennis! After a weekend of photo ops, the Draw Ceremony and Players Gala at the Four Seasons, main draw play began yesterday at the Khalifa International Squash & Tennis Complex. There are no byes for the top players so everyone got straight to work. Serbia’s Viktor Troicki, the number six seed, overcame a dangerous Bjorn Phau in three sets and 2010 QEMO champion and 2011 runner-up Nikolay Davydenko made quick work of veteran Romanian Victor Hanescu.
Pointing out that in Russia, New Year’s Eve is a really big deal, Davydenko didn’t particularly care for playing on the 31st because technically “we’re playing in 2012… last season. I really not enjoy to play on 31st.” Asked about his New Year’s Eve plans, Nikolay said “I can really celebrate my party tonight. You know, I’m allowed to drink today some alcohol, you know… because I don’t need to play tomorrow.” Well, OK!
Philipp Kohlschreiber, the number 3 seed, was more good-natured after winning his first match of the season against Ivan Dodig at about 11:30 pm. He stuck around on Centre Court celebrating with tournament organizers and posing for a photo with Tournament Director (and former ATP top 25 player) Karim Alami at the stroke of midnight (photo).
Spain’s David Ferrer, the number one seed–perhaps feeling some pressure after a career-best season last year where he led the ATP World Tour with 76 match wins—overcame an inspired Dustin “Dreddy” Brown. Ferrer–who will move past Nadal to number four in the world–rallied to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 after dropping the first set.
Notable first round upsets included number five seed Jeremy Chardy, who went down to qualifier Daniel Brands, and a frustrated Feliciano Lopez, the number seven seed, who never recovered after being penalized for a time violation on his serve at a critical point in the match. “Deliciano,” perhaps better known for his modeling than his tennis, lost to an energized Lukasz Kubot who, as if he hadn’t had enough of a workout, was seen jumping rope in the hallway half an hour after his match!
Marquee second round matches on tap for today: Davydenko vs. Mikhail Youzhny, who recorded his 400th career win yesterday (the ninth active player to do so), and Kohlschreiber vs. unseeded and two-time QEMO finalist Gaël Monfils, a fan-favorite coming off a knee injury that knocked him down to the mid-70s in the world rankings after reaching number seven in the world in 2011.
Araka fi ma ba’d أراك في مابعد (“until later”) from Doha.