The ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is the next stop of the ATP-500 level events, taking place the same week as the Mexican Open, but it is the former which has a long history of welcoming a plethora of the best of tennis players in the world each year.
Defending champion and nine-time winner of the event Roger Federer sits out this year due to knee surgery, but there is no shortage of star power in the draw as Novak Djokovic – the four-time champion – is set to grace us with his presence.
We predict on all six ATP Dubai matches of Day 1. Three are in this article, and the other three in a second article.
ATP Dubai Day 1 Predictions
Karen Khachanov vs Mikhail Kukushkin
Head-to-head: Khachanov 0-3 Kukushkin
Karen Khachanov’s 2019 season was major disappointment, posting a modest 33-31 record. He failed to win any titles during the year, and once the Paris points came off following his unsuccessful title defense last November, he lost his Top 10 status.
But the Russian power-hitter did have a decent ATP Cup at the start of 2020, winning four of his five singles matches to help his country reach the semifinals. Khachanov will try to address his unspectacular record in Dubai where he has won only one match in three previous visits when he faces Mikhail Kukushkin.
Kukushkin has fared dismally to start the new season. He is chasing what would be only his second main draw win of the season. The Kazakh lost in the first round in Marseille last week, meaning his finalist points from last year will come off and his ranking will take a massive hit. He still owns Khachanov in their head-to-head surprisingly, winning a pair of matches at Challenger level, but the World No.17 is now a perennial danger on hard courts having won his four titles on the surface. Expect Khachanov to solve the Kukushkin riddle for once.
Prediction: Khachanov in 3
Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Mohamed Safwat
Head-to-head: First meeting
Philipp Kohlschreiber kicked off his season with a title at the Canberra Challenger, but had to pull out of the Australian Open after just one match. He lost his first match of 2020 in Rotterdam a fortnight ago, going down to Dan Evans in three sets. The German veteran’s task in Dubai is not straightforward by any stretch of imagination despite his impressive record in these parts over the years.
Mohamed Safwat, Egypt’s flag-bearer in tennis, also won a Challenger title this year (his very first), bringing a 24-year wait for an Egyptian champion to a close when he captured the Launceston Challenger two weeks ago. His reward for those exploits is a wildcard entry in the main draw of the Dubai Championships for the third time in his career.
I actually think this a very winnable match for Safwat who can suffocate Kohlschreiber with his fast-strike tennis. The Egyptian will also get the majority of support from the locals who could extract the best tennis out of him.
Prediction: Safwat in 3
Novak Djokovic vs Malek Jaziri
Head-to-head: Djokovic 1-0 Jaziri
World No.1 Novak Djokovic will look to keep his unbeaten start to the season intact when he faces Tunisian wildcard Malek Jaziri in his opener. Djokovic, a four-time champion in Dubai, last featured at these championships in 2016 and ironically his last match win was against Jaziri in the second round of that year.
It is not often you see a wildcard seeing the funny side of a meeting against the top seed in a tournament. And for Malek Jaziri who has had his fair share of horror draws in Dubai, burst into laughter once his name was first out of the hat during the draw ceremony. Sometimes in tennis there is nothing to it but to accept that your opponent is vastly superior. Djokovic inflicts that feeling right now.
Prediction: Djokovic in 2
Main Photo from Getty.