Dubai Tennis: Roger Federer to start tilt for title No 8 against Philipp Kohlschreiber
No 1 seed Kei Nishikori gets Benoit Paire in first round, while Marin Cilic goes up against Gael Monfils
Seven-time champion Roger Federer has been handed a difficult draw in his bid for yet another success at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
The Swiss star, the No 2 seed this coming week, returns to the event he has dominated having missed last year, and was handed a first-round assignment against veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber when the draw was made on Saturday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.
Federer, a 20-time grand slam champion, lifted the last of his seven Dubai titles in 2015. Should he get past Kohlschreiber, the world No 7 could then face experienced Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
Verdasco has gone deep at the tournament as well, finishing runner-up to Andy Murray two years ago – the last time he competed in Dubai. He plays a qualifier in his opening round.
Although debutant Kei Nishikori enters as No 1 seed this year, Federer’s return is no doubt the headline.
The 37-year-old, who captured the first of his tournament titles in 2003, will be making his first tour-level appearance since his defeat last month to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
“We are delighted to welcome both old faces and new to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships,” said Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and chief executive of Dubai Duty Free. “Everyone will be keen to see if Roger Federer can win the title yet again, or if a new name will be added to one of the most sought-after trophies on the ATP Tour.”
In Dubai, Federer will be chasing his 100th tour-level title. He boasts a 13-0 head-to-head record against Kohlschreiber, and has only once before bowed out of the tournament in the first round. That one blemish from 13 opening matches came in 2008, when he lost in three sets to Murray.
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Federer sits in the bottom quarter of the draw with seventh seed Milos Raonic, setting up the possibility of a difficult quarter-final clash. The Canadian, a former world No 3, has seven victories from 10 matches thus far this season.
In the top half, top seed Nishikori begins his campaign against Frenchman Benoit Paire and could meet Tsitsipas in the last eight. The fifth seed, who arrives in Dubai not long from his surprise run to the Australian Open semi-finals, opens against Australian Matthew Ebden.
Elsewhere, No 3 seed and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic has been handed a tough first test against the mercurial Gael Monfils, who won recently in Rotterdam.
Cilic is making his first Dubai appearance since 2010.
Defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut will be seeking to retain the trophy he captured last year and begins his bid to go back-to-back against wildcard Ramkumar Ramanathan.
Bautista Agut has enjoyed a strong start to 2019, dispatching Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka en route to winning in Doha last month. The Spaniard then reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
Updated: February 24, 2019 02:48 PM