Gary Meenaghan reports:
DUBAI // Rain stopped play last night at the Aviation Club, but it could not derail the charge of Tomas Berdych as the world No 7 smoothly dispatched Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 6-3 in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The powerful Czech, who is visiting the Emirates for the second time in as many months after debuting at Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala World Tennis Championships in January, looked comfortable throughout the first-round match yesterday.
Following the late withdrawal of Andy Murray, the world No 5, Berdych is seeded third here behind Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – who are both in action today – and showed why he is regarded so highly among the tennis fraternity with an impressive start that saw him win 11 of his first 12 service points.
The 25-year-old broke Chardy in the fifth game to take a lead, before then overpowering his opponent’s service game once more to take a 5-2 adavantage.
Serving for the set, Berdych made light work of any potential fight back, dominating the 51st-ranked Chardy and producing two aces.
“You know, for me, it was important to stay on my serve and then when I get my first chance, just to take it,” Berdych said.
“I can see it from the other side because it’s not that long since I was in this position; playing with the high-seed guys. [I know] It’s very tough when you lose the contact with your opponent in the beginning, it starts to roll over really fast.”
The second set did not start so brightly – both on and off the court. Berdych double-faulted while trailing 15-40 to fall two games behind, and the gray clouds that had shielded the sun in the afternoon finally provided the raindrops they had been threatening.
A 28-minute break ensued as staff hurriedly attempted to dry the court using towels and electric driers. And when the players returned, Berdych appeared to have taken the interval to collect his thoughts and immediately broke back.
“It definitely does not happen too often,” said Berdych of experiencing rain in the desert. “We can count the days on just one hand. It’s not more than that. But it happened for me in the match, and I think in the quite right moment. I had a little bit of time to settle down and talk with the coach.
“When I get back from the rain delay, I was trying to get back the rhythm from the beginning to be a little more aggressive.
Then it starts to work again almost perfectly. I’m a little bit too passive and just waiting for some mistakes or whatever, so we just made some little changes, and I went back on court and was very good.”
“Very good” does not come close. What followed was flawless tennis as Berdych won 16 of the last 20 points, including a straight run of 13 in successioni. He broke Chardy twice more to close the match out and later said he was “just feeling very good on the court”.
“I was not really aiming for some special and extreme shots,” Berdych said. “Just try to be as consistent and patient and with not too many mistakes; serving well, which is my good weapon. Pretty much everything worked solid.”
In the evening’s late match, fifth seed Ivan Ljubicic was forced to retire as Sergey Bubka raced into a 6-1, 0-1 lead. The Croatian requested a medical time-out shortly after the second set got under way, indicating trouble with his right knee.
Having spoken to the medic, he quickly decided to gift his opponent safe passage into the second round, where the Ukrainian, ranked No 342 in the world, will meet Richard Gasquet.
Gary Meenaghan reports: DUBAI // First came the flag, then came the cheering: together they produced the belief.
Omar Awadhy of the UAE and his doubles teammate Mohammed al Nabhani of Oman looked from all angles as good as beaten yesterday as they slipped to a 6-0 opening-set defeat in their first-round match with Dick Norman and Marcel Grannolers at the Dubai Tennis Championships.
Yet, the Gulf pairing – playing together for the first time in an ATP tournament – searched within themselves, relaxed, dismissed the expectations and fought back, winning the second set 6-3 and forcing the game towards an unexpected closely fought match tie-break.
The small, vocal crowd stood to attention and an Omani flag waved proudly as al Nabhani helped secure a 5-3 lead for a short while, before the duo eventually tired and succumbed to a valiant 10-6 defeat in the first-to-10 decider.
“We lost the first set very easily, [but] the second everything went our way, basically,” Awadhy said.
“We kept on going one-all, two-all, three-all, and then we broke at 4-3 and the crowd got into it a bit.
“We made a match out of it; that was the best thing about it. Because the first set was no contest.”
Norman, the 39-year-old Belgian veteran playing alongside doubles world No10 Grannolers, said his opponents had played “close to perfect in the second set” and “even in the tie-break looked dangerous”.
Awadhy meets Sergiy Stakhovsky, the world No 43 this afternoon and says he plans to just enjoy the experience. It will be his eighth appearance in the Dubai single’s tournament.
“It’s going to be a very tough match again,” he said. “With these guys you know it’s always going to be extremely difficult. You just have to go in, relax, play your game and hope he has an off day.”
Ahmed Rizvi reports: DUBAI // Ernests Gulbis has often been compared to Marat Safin, and the reasons are obvious. His attitude, looks and talent remind you of the tempestuous former Russian player, and a desire to succeed also seems to reside in his genes.
The Latvian’s paternal grandfather, Alvils Gulbis, won the European Championships with ASK Riga, a Soviet basketball team; his maternal grandfather, Uldis Pucitis, was a popular actor and film director.
His mother, Milena, followed in her father’s footsteps and became an actress, while his father, Ainars, is a prominent investment businessman.
Ernests, though, is making a career in a sport that he first started playing at the age of five.
He is doing well for himself; he is already the first Latvian to win an ATP title (Delray Beach, 2010 in Florida), has wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, and is currently ranked No 24 in the world.
At the Dubai Tennis Championships, he is the eighth seed and started his campaign with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Michael Berrer yesterday.
“It’s the first win after a long time for me because I skipped Rotterdam [because of illness] and in Marseilles I didn’t feel so well,” said the 22-year-old, who is in the top-half of a draw that could see him run into Federer, the world No 2, in the quarter-finals.
Gulbis could have gone to the US to defend his title at Delray Beach, but chose to come to Dubai because this tournament has double the points on offer (500) and because he was seeded.
“First of all, I’m from Europe,” he said, explaining his choice.
“I enjoy it a lot more in Europe than I do in America.
“In Europe, I can go between tournaments to home. For example, after this tournament I’m going to go home for two days at least.
“If I had played Delray Beach, I would have had to go for a longer stretch, like two months in the USA.
“It’s not that much, but in the end it still affects you. The last week of Miami, if you’re there, you are already sick of travelling.
“So basically that’s the most important point. And also, here is the 500 [point] tournament; Delray Beach is 250 this week. So my ranking allows me to play here. I’m seeded here by the chance.”
If Andy Murray had not pulled out due to an injury, Gulbis would not have been seeded. But there can be little doubts about his talents – something that he readily admits to having from an early age.
“If you’re inside of tennis, you see a kid growing up, you immediately can tell if he has a feeling for the ball or not,” he said.
“There are kids, sorry to say, but they cannot catch a ball. Somebody who is a natural, they are catching the ball and throwing the ball.
“I was already dribbling with the basketball at the age of two.”
Blessed with natural ability, Gulbis is now working hard on the physical side of his game to achieve success.
“I think nowadays it is more important to do the hard work because the game so physical,” he said.
Gary Meenaghan reports: Philipp Petzschner battled back from one set down and facing a tie-break in the second to remain in the match to overcome Andreas Seppi of Italy 3-6, 7-6, 6-2.
The German looked down and out after dropping the opening set, but he showed belief to fight his way into a tie-break, which he took comfortably.
A swirling sandstorm was in the air earlier in the afternoon, forcing the groundsmen to sweep centre court before Ernests Gulbis dispatched Michael Berrer 6-3, 6-4 and it looks like it may get another sweep soon as Richard Gasquet has just struck an ace to close out his second set and eliminate Bulgarian qualifier Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-4 with just over an hour played.
He will play the winner of tonight’s late match between Ivan Ljubicic and Sergei Bubka, the latter of whom is the namesake and son of the famous former pole-vaulting champion.
Gary Meenaghan reports: Ernests Gulbis leads Michael Berrer 6-3, 4-2 with just over an hour played on Court One.
The Latvian, whose dad is one of the richest men in his home country, is looking to book a second-round match against either Sergiy Stakhovsky or Emirati hope Omar Awadhy. Gulbis is seeded eighth at this week’s tournament, while Berrer, like Awadhy, is a wild card.
Elsewhere, Italian Andreas Seppi is embroiled in a tie-break for his match against Philipp Petzschner of Germany after taking the first set 6-3. Petzschner leads the crucial tie-break 5-2.
Ahmed Rizvi reports: After the Australian Open final, a new rivalry seems to be emerging in men’s tennis. The only problem is, it might not be fractious like Jimmy Connors-John McEnroe, but more along the lines of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer because Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray seem to be good friends.
Murray, who pulled out the Dubai Tennis Championship due to a wrist injury, was at the Emirates Stadium last Wednesday to watch Arsenal beat Barcelona in the Champions League and he did MMS a few pictures from there to Djokovic.
“He sent me some pictures from the Arsenal–Barcelona game the other day,” said the Serb. “He was supporting Arsenal. He was very happy with the result.”
Djokovic also revealed plans to play doubles with Murray in Miami and he is confident the Scot, who has lost three grand slam finals, will bounce back from his defeat in the Australian Open final.
“I guess we tennis players get used to winning and losing on a week-to-week basis,” Djokovic said. “I am sure it is definitely not easy for him to lose the third Grand Slam final in a row. But he has faced that situation before and I am sure he is going to recover fast because he is a mentally strong player.
“He needs a little bit more time to find his way through to the title. He has everything he needs to the title. He has shown it many times before. He is definitely one of the best players in the world. With his game, especially in the hard court, he will have many more opportunities.”
Ahmed Rizvi reports: When Michael Berrer starts off the men’s Dubai Tennis Championship at 2pm against Ernests Gulbis on centre court, he will have a few hundred school students cheering them on.
The kids, from different schools of Dubai, have come to the Dubai Tennis Stadium for an autograph signing session with Russian star Mikhail Youzhny.
Dressed in their different school colours, with giant tennis balls, the students seem really keen for the action to get started.
Besides them, there are few seats taken on centre court, but with Tomas Berdych set to play the feature 7pm match, against Jeremy Chardy, the numbers will surely swell.
Hello and welcome to The National's live updates for the men's tournament at the Dubai Tennis Championships.
We have three reporters courtside today to bring you reports, news and features for what should be a gripping event at the Dubai Tennis Stadium.
Here is some background reading from today's edition before reports from the opening matches at 2pm start to flow in.