Dubai: ATP World Tour Finals champion and world No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov will start as favourite to lift the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy in just two weeks’ time, but he will face formidable opposition from a host of talented challengers including in-form Frenchman Lucas Pouille.
Pouille, who will celebrate his 24th birthday on the eve of his Dubai campaign, will head here full of confidence having just days ago beaten Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before downing compatriot and three-time champion Richard Gasquet 7-6, 6-4 in the final of the Montpellier event to take his fifth career title.
Pouille has come a long way since he had to fight his way into the main draw by competing in the qualifying competition in 2015 and 2016. Last year he marched all the way to the semi-finals, edging past Roger Federer’s conqueror Evgeny Donskoy before losing to eventual champion Andy Murray. Very much a player on the rise, he claimed three titles last year, is in tremendous form and will clearly pose a threat to anyone he faces.
“I’m very happy with the win,” he said. “Obviously it was a tough match. Richard is an amazing player and one of the best on tour. The first set was very important and taking the tiebreak led me to the victory. I’m very happy with the way I played. It was a great week for me. A great feeling.”
Gasquet, who will join Pouille in Dubai, has enjoyed a long and successful career that has seen him earn 14 titles and reach a further 15 finals. He has been ranked as high as seven in the world and he has been a semi-finalist at both Wimbledon and the US Open. He played a part in his country winning the Davis Cup, he won bronze in doubles at the London Olympics and he has also won the French Open mixed doubles.
Roberto Bautista Agut is another major contender who has already won a title this year, the seventh of his career, by overcoming former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the Auckland final in a three-set battle. The Spaniard is making his sixth successive appearance here and will be hoping for better luck with the draw than he has experienced so far.
The first two years saw him face Novak Djokovic in the second round, on his third visit he was edged out in a third set tiebreak by Richard Gasquet, again in the second round, and in 2016 he reached the quarter-finals before falling to eventual runner-up Marcos Baghdatis. Last year he fell in the second round to the eventual runner-up, Fernando Verdasco.
Philipp Kohlschreiber is yet another opponent who always poses a threat, no matter who the opposition. His last three appearances have produced a semi-final finish in 2014 and runs to the quarter-finals both in 2016 and 2017. In each of those quarters he lost to the eventual champion, in 2016 to Stan Wawrinka and then last year to Andy Murray after the German had held an incredible seven match points.
Likened to superstar Novak Djokovic, young gun Borna Coric will also present a danger to anyone he faces. He has already made a massive impression at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, when after falling in the 2015 qualifying competition he gained a place in the main draw as a lucky loser and went all the way to the semi-finals, beating Andy Murray in the quarters.
Last season he won his first title by beating Kohlschreiber in the Marrakech final, then went on to earn the biggest win of his career as he upset world No. 1 Andy Murray again to reach the quarter-finals of the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid.
“Many of the players competing at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships have enjoyed excellent results both here and around the world, some for many years and some by players who are still in the early days of their career” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice-Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “All will be eager to lift the magnificent trophy and success for even the biggest names is never guaranteed. We wish everyone well.”
Tournament Director Salah Tahlak added, “Every player will be determined to win one of the most coveted trophies on the ATP World Tour, and with such a competitive field it is impossible to predict who will emerge as the winner. The only guarantee is that this year the tournament will crown a brand new champion, and we look forward to many exciting matches”.
The ATP World Tour event takes place between February 26 and March 3 and follows the 18th staging of the WTA tournament, which takes place from February 19-24. The WTA event features a fantastic seven of the world’s top 10, and five former world No. 1s including Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova, Australian Open runner-up Simona Halep, 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova; 2018 Sydney champion and two time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber, as well as defending Dubai champion and recent Brisbane winner Elina Svitolina, 2017 US Open runner-up Madison Keys, and Australian No. 1 and 2018 Sydney runner-up Ashleigh Barty.
Tickets can be bought at the box office between 9am and 9pm each day or online at www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com