BSP-01 Qatar Open kicks off 2018 season without big stars

ZCZC

BSP-01

TENNIS-ATP-QAT

Qatar Open kicks off 2018 season without big stars

DOHA, Dec 31, 2017 (BSS/AFP) – One of the season’s traditional curtain-
raisers, the Qatar Open, begins Monday but with the late withdrawal of Novak
Djokovic the tournament is shorn of its usual A-list headline acts.

Djokovic, the champion in Doha for the past two years, pulled out on
Saturday because of continuing problems with a niggling elbow injury.

His absence was bad news personally — placing doubts over his
participation in January’s Australian Open — and potentially also for the
tournament, which in the past few seasons has earned a growing reputation.

Last year the Serbian superstar beat Britain’s Andy Murray, then world
number one, in a thrilling, three-set final in front of a sell-out Doha crowd
which included members of Bayern Munich’s football team, in Qatar for winter
training, and Paris Saint-Germain chief, Nasser al-Khelaifi.

The year before, Djokovic destroyed Rafa Nadal in the final, dropping just
three games against the Spaniard in a breathtaking display to take the title,
an ideal warm-up before claiming his sixth Australian Open crown a few weeks
later.

This year, though, the field in Qatar is less eye-catching but may provide
an opportunity for the new stars of tennis to push through.

With Djokovic gone, the number one seeding has been handed to the world
number five, Dominic Thiem.

The Austrian is looking to rebuild on an initially promising 2017, when he
reached the semi-finals of the French Open before losing in Paris to eventual
champion and current world number one Nadal.

Thiem warmed up for Qatar by appearing at the Mubadala World Tennis
Championship in neighbouring United Arab Emirates, where he lost on Friday to
eventual tournament winner Kevin Anderson.

Thiem, 24, could be one of the next generation of tennis stars to
capitalise on the current woes of the sport’s biggest names, even as soon as
next month’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne.

With Djokovic and Murray recovering from long-term injuries, and Nadal
still recuperating from a knee problem, the time could be right for players
such as Thiem to push through to the next level.

He has been handed a first-round match, due to take place on New Year’s
Day, against Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy.

Number two seed in Doha will be Pablo Carreno Busta, 26, the world number
10.

He has been drawn against Croatia’s Borna Coric, another player tipped to
emerge over the next few years as the old guard eventually leaves the world
stage.

These two could be pushed hard in Doha by veteran Tomas Berdych.

The Czech star, 32, has gone close on two occasions in Qatar, being
eliminated in the past two seasons in the semi-finals.

The top quartet of seeds is completed by Spain’s Albert Ramos Vinolas, the
world number 23.

Also in the field is fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, who reached the
semi-finals last year before losing to Djokovic in three sets, and France’s
Gael Monfils.

BSS/AFP/MSY/0826 hrs