Qatar Open kicks off 2018 season without big stars
Doha: One of the season's traditional curtain-raisers, the Qatar Open, begins on Monday but with the late withdrawal of Novak Djokovic the tournament is shorn of its usual A-list headline acts.
Djokovic, the champion in Doha for the past two years, pulled out on Saturday because of continuing problems with a niggling elbow injury.
His absence was bad news personally — placing doubts over his participation in January's Australian Open — and potentially also for the tournament, which in the past few seasons has earned a growing reputation. Last year the Serbian superstar beat Britain's Andy Murray, then world number one, in a thrilling, three-set final in front of a sell-out Doha crowd which included members of Bayern Munich's football team, in Qatar for winter training, and Paris Saint-Germain chief, Nasser al-Khelaifi.
The year before, Djokovic destroyed Rafa Nadal in the final, dropping just three games against the Spaniard in a breathtaking display to take the title, an ideal warm-up before claiming his sixth Australian Open crown a few weeks later.
This year, though, the field in Qatar is less eye- catching but may provide an opportunity for the new stars of tennis to push through. With Djokovic gone, the number one seeding has been handed to the world number five, Dominic Thiem. The Austrian is looking to rebuild on an initially promising 2017, when he reached the semi-finals of the French Open before losing in Paris to eventual champion and current world number one Nadal.
Thiem warmed up for Qatar by appearing at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in neighbouring United Arab Emirates, where he lost on Friday to eventual tournament winner Kevin Anderson.
Thiem, 24, could be one of the next generation of tennis stars to capitalise on the current woes of the sport's biggest names, even as soon as next month's first Grand Slam in Melbourne.