Dubai: Defending champion Roger Federer will be bidding for his sixth Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship crown when he returns to action in the emirate later this month.
The 17-time Grand Slam winner, 31, is till a fearsome competitor and is feeling confident ahead of his title defence.
“I’ve just got to be really focused and be confident in my own play and I hope to start well,” Federer vowed.
“I love playing in Dubai for many reasons. I’ve had an incredible run over the years now and I’m really happy to be coming back this year.
“In a way you feel pressure [as defending champion] but you’re also extremely happy and honoured to be back to get the opportunity to defend your title. But you know if you lose in the first round, 500 [ranking] points are gone. So you want to make sure you start the tournament well.
“But then again, for me at this stage of my career, where I’ve had to defend so many titles over and over again, I’ve gotten used to the situation. The stadium is full and people want to see you win, so that alone creates a lot of pressure from the tournament directors, the people, everybody involved, myself.
“So there’s always pressure when I play because usually, I don’t want to say there’s not much in it for me, but if I lose it’s big news and if I win it’s normal.”
Federer, who has a total of 76 singles titles to his name, won his first title in Dubai back in 2003, yet his skill and competitive spirit remains as strong today as when he beat 10th-ranked Jiri Novak to begin his remarkable run of success.
After picking up three Dubai titles in a row between 2003 and 2005, he lost the crown to Rafael Nadal the following year in the final, but won it back again in 2007.
But even the formidable Federer doesn’t have it all his own way in Dubai, as Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free, explained. “In 2008 he was here to defend the title he had won the previous year with a win over Mikhail Youzhny, but he had the misfortune to draw Andy Murray in the first round and lost the match in three sets,” he said.
“That was one of the most remarkable results in the history of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, and because of illness and injury and the wonderful run of three successive victories by Novak Djokovic, it wasn’t until 2012 that Federer could regain his title once more.”
Federer’s fondness for Dubai is well known, having bought property here and often using the city as his base. As for the tournament itself, he loves the venue, which is unlike many of the others he plays around the world.
“I like the feeling of normality sometimes. It’s quite nice,” he said. “It’s a normal dressing room, you feel there is a life when we leave again, it’s not like it’s only purely a one-week site. This whole tournament lives on like a club. You feel it as a player and maybe that’s something players like.
“Then obviously the way it’s run, the organisation. You feel very welcome, very much taken care of. They go the extra mile for us so we appreciate that. Then there’s the city, the beach, the landscape, the buildings, icons all around. It’s just nice to be in a place which is so safe and so nice at the same time.”
This year he will be up against the likes of Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro.
The ATP World Tour event takes place between February 25 and March 2 and follows the WTA tournament, which begins on January 18 and features an incredible nine of the world’s top 10 players.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships are owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free and held under the patronage of HH Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Tickets are on sale from the Dubai Tennis Stadium, Garhoud, which is open from 9am to 9pm daily. Grandstand ticket prices range from Dh50 for opening rounds to Dh450 for finals, with season tickets also available. For more information log on to www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com or phone +971 4 4172415.