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16 April 2024

Winner's spot left wide open

With Nadal and Federer pulling out of this week's tournament, Scot Andy Murray is in strong contention. (GETTY IMAGES)

By Ahmad Lala

After Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer graced the Australian public with an epic five-set thriller last month, it is a massive let-down for local fans that both players won't feature at the Dubai Tennis Championships this week.

Federer, a four-time winner here, confirmed on Tuesday he would miss the tournament for the first time since 2002 due to a back problem, while the world No1 withdrew on Thursday due to a troublesome knee.

The loss of the two highest-ranked players means that now only six of the top 10 men's players will be part of the 32-competitor field when the week-long event gets underway at the Aviation Club tomorrow.

However, the road to the $2 million (Dh7.3m) tournament prize pot never has one-way traffic and this year should be no different with defending champion Andy Roddick, No3 seed Novak Djokovic and the in-form Andy Murray all in contention.

And, as we saw in the women's tournament this week when No2 seed Dinara Safina and former World No1 Jelena Jankovic were both knocked out early – surprises are part and parcel of the Dubai tournaments.

Last year, Murray knocked out the then world No1 Federer in the first round. The Scot has progressed rapidly since then, and comes here on the back of beating Nadal in a Rotterdam tournament final last week.

Last month, the world No4 won the Capitala World Tennis Championship, an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi, and then the Qatar Open a week later.

This week, he will certainly have the large British expat crowd on his side as he chases a win that will complete a full collection of Middle East titles.

Since winning the Australian Open in 2008, Djokovic has failed to live up to the promise of being the 'third-force' in men's tennis – alongside Nadal and Federer.

Last month, he limped out of the Melbourne Grand Slam and the Serb will know he needs to win here to close the widening points gulf between him and the top two, which is now 1,190 points.

He also needs to open up one between himself and Murray, who is 1,550 points behind the Serb.

Roddick, meanwhile, will be delighted his Swiss nemesis has pulled out of the event. Federer had knocked him out of the Australian Open semi-finals.