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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Tournament director Salah Tahlak confident Dubai has not seen last of world No 1 Roger Federer despite absence from 2018 event

Confirmation the 20-time major winner will not be part of the draw this year as he rests ahead of tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami.

World No 1 Roger Federer may not be playing in Dubai this year but organisers are hopeful he will return to a tournament he has won seven times in the past in the future. Michael Kooren / Reuters
World No 1 Roger Federer may not be playing in Dubai this year but organisers are hopeful he will return to a tournament he has won seven times in the past in the future. Michael Kooren / Reuters

Organisers of the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships are confident they have not seen the last of Roger Federer at the tournament, after the new world No 1 confirmed his omission from next week’s event.

The Swiss star, who last month climbed to 20 grand slam titles with victory at the Australian Open in January, had left the door open to play in Dubai following his win in Rotterdam a week ago.

Federer’s place in the quarter-finals had already ensured he reclaimed top spot in the ATP rankings for the first time since November 2012. At age 36, he became the oldest player to occupy the men’s summit.

Given those exertions, Federer has decided to sit out Dubai, an event he has won a record seven times, as he gets set to prepare for title defences in Indian Wells and Miami next month. His most recent Dubai victory came in 2015.

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Tournament director Salah Tahlak received confirmation on Wednesday that Federer would not compete next week from the player's agent, Tony Godsick. However, despite the disappointment, Tahlak said he fully respected the decision.

“I understand and I believe whatever’s good for him is good for us,” he said. “You can’t really push him more. Had he not won in Rotterdam he would have definitely come here. I really respect Roger as a person, as a professional and as an athlete.

"He’s so classy. He’s a legend. He has done well for the game, done well for Dubai. Getting to world No 1 after five years and 106 days, it’s an amazing result. So it’s good for him that he’s back to No 1.”

Asked if he expected Federer to participate in Dubai again, Tahlak said: “Probably, because Tony said yes, if we can plan things ahead, he will come back next year.”

The main draw for next week’s tournament begins on Monday, with world No 4 Grigor Dimitrov the highest-ranked player in the field.

The tournament is missing a number of marquee names, though, since past champions Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are all out. The latter trio had expressed an interest to play, but injury issues to each meant they could not make it.

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With Dubai an ATP 500 event, Tahlak thought the absence of some of the game’s best players could have perhaps swayed Federer to come.

“It would have been a good year to come and then maybe add another 500 points,” he said. “It would have been easier for him. It’s always difficult when Nadal and Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan… none of them were here.

“In the end he decided with his coach, his physics. They know him best. As Tony said, he has to look at it health-wise, because in August he’s going to be 37 years old. For me, I can’t say anything, but that I wish him all the best.”

Tahlak acknowledged that the Dubai tournament is in “direct competition” with Acapulco, which takes place in the same week and offers the same ranking points. It is also closer in proximity to the established American hardcourt events. World No 2 Nadal headlines the field next week in Mexico, meaning the event boasts four of the top six in the current standings.

Tahlak said the evolution of tennis - the so-called "Big Four" are all in their 30s - could see a shift in how Dubai looks at putting together its roster.

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“Like in football, in a way the players will all fade out one day, they’re all going to go,” he said. “So we have to accept that. We’ve been good for many years and I believe we should focus on the new generation.

“The head of the ATP, Chris Kermode, he’s promoting a lot the next generation, so we should do that. Because for how many more years will Roger last? Two more? And even Nadal, all of them. They’re coming to the end of their careers.

“But we should think of others. They’re doing well, we should not underestimate them. We have Dimitrov. The fans should understand tennis is like any other sport. It moves up and down. This is the game.

“And another problem is that a lot of players do also play [exhibitions] in the off-season. That gives them more money, but also more injuries and more risk to their health. Financially it means a lot for them, but also a risk of injuries. And that’s what we’re all suffering from, the other tournaments.”