ABU DHABI // After spending the past two weeks at Doha, taking advantage of the warm Gulf weather to log some pre-season practice time, the world No 9 Janko Tipsarevic flew into the UAE capital on Tuesday and found his path temporarily blocked.
Arriving for his first appearance at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, the Serbian standout said he was held at passport control for 30 minutes while his paperwork was inspected.
Perhaps officials thought he looked like a suspicious character.
"Yeah, shady," he laughed.
Tipsarevic has a larger hurdle in the way if his time at Zayed Sports City is going to be anything but brief: he has drawn Andy Murray, the world No 3, in Thursday night's first-round match at Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex.
Maybe the passport inspector was from the UK. If Tipsarevic knocks out Murray, who stands to be a firm crowd favourite given the number of British expatriates in the region, it would throw the tournament bracket into disarray.
Because of the withdrawal, on Tuesday, of the world No 4 Rafael Nadal, the seedings suggest that Murray will face the world No 1 and defending tournament champion Novak Djokovic in the final Saturday night.
Trashing those projections is what Tipsarevic, 28, has in mind.
Sanctioning bodies consider this an unofficial event, but it is a nice springboard for the 2013 season, set up to mirror the conditions of the upcoming Australian Open, from the hard-court surface to the type of tennis balls used, not to mention the comparable level of grand slam competition at the quarter-final stage.
Even with Nadal absent, the six-man field at Abu Dhabi is composed of players ranked in the world top 11.
"The sensation that you feel inside is maybe more relaxed because you hear that word, 'exhibition'," Tipsarevic said. "But these guys want to lift that trophy and send a message about this season."
Ferrer won the match, but Berdych and the Czechs won the cup.
"I hope it's going to go better than it did last time," Berdych said. "This week is the best possible start you can have - a couple of matches against great, great players."
The winner of their match faces Djokovic in the second semi-final tomorrow; the Murray-Tipsarevic survivor faces Nicolas Almagro, the world No 11, who joins the tournament in the semi-final slot that previously belonged to Nadal.
Few are standing as tall at the moment as the lanky and soft-spoken Murray, the reigning US Open champion and the London Olympics gold medallist.
He is hoping to use the momentum from a breakout season to catapult him to an even higher in 2013, and permanently alter the pecking order at the top.
Even after Murray won the US Open championship, Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic collectively have won 31 of the past 34 slam titles.
Asked Wednesday if he thought he belonged in the same category with those three, he said: "If you look at their careers as a whole, then no, I wouldn't be.
"But the thing with sport is that it is not relevant what happened seven, eight years ago. Right now, I am playing at that level to compete with them. The last few months have been very good, but I need to maintain that."
With six of the world's top 11 players on hand, Abu Dhabi looks a good place to start.
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