DUBAI // Roger Federer made a blazing start to his quest for a fifth Dubai Tennis Championship title, brushing aside Michael Llodra 6-0, 7-6 on a packed centre court Tuesday night.
The second seed needed only 17 minutes for the opening set and then took the tie-break 8-6 to set up a second-round clash with Feliciano Lopez, a two-time Dubai finalist, who cruised past Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-4.
“It’s always great to start off a tournament winning the first set 6-0,” Federer said. “I don’t know when is the last time it happened to me.
“I think I was solid. I could have served maybe a touch better, but still, I was never really in a whole lot of problems. So it’s great start for me to the tournament. I hope to back it up day for day now. We’ll see how it goes.”
Lopez is enjoying his best ranking on the tour at the moment, having climbed to No 15, and Federer is expecting a tough match against an opponent he beat to win the 2004 Dubai title. The Spaniard also lost to Andy Roddick in the 2008 final.
I know the danger of Feliciano,” Federer said. “He’s had a great season. I think he’s ranked within the top 15. That’s a tough second round, right there. I’ve played him, I think, here in the final years ago, so I know he can play well here.
“This is a definitely a good hunting ground for him, so I won’t take anything lightly. [I will] try to play my game again, make sure I focus on my own serve, and then see what I can do on his serve.”
Britain’s Andy Murray laboured to a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory against Michael Berrer in their first round match.
The No 3 seed struggled because of a combination of fine aggressive play from the German and his own inconsistency.
Novak Djokovic is planning to invite Diego Maradona, the Al Wasl coach, to one of his matches at the Dubai Tennis Championships. The Serbian world No 1 had spent some time with the Argentine legend when he was in Abu Dhabi for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship and Djokovic wants to meet him again. "Actually I'm going to give him a call," Djokovic said. "Let's see. He usually has practices in the evening with the team. So obviously his scheduling has to be right. Hopefully he can come, maybe even tomorrow."
While Djokovic waits on Maradona, one of the greatest athletes of all-time graced the championships on Monday night. Sergey Bubka, the pole vaulting legend, cheered his son, Sergei, on as he battled Lacko Lukas in a marathon first round match. Back at a tournament where he achieved the biggest success of his tennis career as yet, an upset win over Ivan Ljubicic in the first round last year, Sergei Bubka seemed heading for another appearance in the second round after winning the first set 6-2. He was eventually beaten 16-14 in the deciding third set. Bubka Sr, who broke the pole vault record 35 times, was not in Dubai last year, but made sure he was at the Aviation Club this year to watch his son.
Class in session
Away from the superstars and the spotlight, Tennis Emirates conducted a clinic yesterday, with the tournament's top seeded doubles pair of Aisam-ul-Haq Quereshi and Jean-Julien Roger offering advice to the promising youngsters. "I remember many of the boys from last time and it's great to see that they have improved," Quereshi said. "I didn't start playing tennis until I was 14 so they have a much better chance to make it, given they are younger than I was when I started." While the Emirati boys enjoyed their session with the doubles duo, one Dubai English Speaking College pupil had a surprise visitor to his school. Andrey Golubev went there to present Christopher Williams, 13, with his prize for winning a schools' competition, which was held in the run-up to the tournament. Williams received two tickets to the men's final.
Endless falafel supply
The day brought good news for Karim Najia as well - Just Falafel have decided to sponsor him. The Lebanese youngster has won the national Under 12 title twice and is currently leading the rankings in the Under 14 category. The sponsorship deal will include financial support for all expenses including coaching tournament fees, travelling costs and equipment. "I am incredibly grateful for the support of Just Falafel, and their faith in me as I progress this season," Najia said.
Big brother serves props
Despite Marko Djokovic's first round defeat, Novak Djokovic is confident his younger brother can make a name for himself on the tennis circuit, once he learns to cope with the pressures of being the world No 1's sibling. Novak watched as Marko lost 6-3, 6-2 to Andrey Golubey and said: "It's hard [for Marko] because the people compare him to me. In all his junior tournaments and all these years that he's been playing tennis, he's been compared to me. So he's trying to fight, I think, with his mind more than really with the game. I think as soon as he manages to control his thoughts and focus on his own career, I think he's going to be good. … It's in the blood."