ABU DHABI, December 28, 2015
Just three days left before the global tennis season starts the new year when the Mubadala World Tennis Championships returns to Abu Dhabi from 31 December to 2 January.
Six players will compete for the Championships title and US-$250,000 in prize money. The line-up includes world number 12 Kevin Anderson, who will make his Middle East debut. The 29-year-old from South Africa clinched one title on the ATP World Tour in 2015, winning the Winston-Salem Open in August. Anderson closed the season at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Paris-Bercy in the first week of November, losing in the round of the final 16 to Rafael Nadal in three sets.
In December, Anderson practiced in hot and humid conditions in his home town of Delray Beach. “It’s not easy, but obviously it’s great in order to get ready for Australia, where the conditions are similar,” the Johannesburg native said during his off-season. Chilean Nicolás Jarry, who reached a career high of 172 in May was one of his hitting partners.
Anderson has become the first South African to break into the top 10 since 1997 and is looking for continued success in 2016, starting at the International Tennis Centre, Zayed Sports Centre in Abu Dhabi. “I can’t wait to be competing at this year’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship and have always wanted to be a part of it. I know all the players really give it their all in Abu Dhabi and I hear the crowds are pretty amazing, so I’m looking forward to experiencing it for the first time,” he told.
“When I turned pro, my aim was to make it into the top 100 in the world and this year I broke into the top 10 which was a massive moment for me. I hope to build on this in 2016 and the chance to play in Abu Dhabi against the top players in the world ahead of the new season will get me in the best possible shape to do so,” he added.
Anderson will take on world number 14 Milos Raonic. Both players met twice on the tour with one victory for each player. The last encounter between the two took place at the French Open 2013 with Anderson winning in three sets. The 25-year-old Canadian, who clinched his seventh ATP career title in St. Petersburg in September, is also making his debut in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
“I’ve only heard positive things about this tournament and the city of Abu Dhabi, and looking at the line-up it is for sure going to be a challenging few days,” Raonic told.
“It’s really great to be able to test yourself against world-class opponents before the new season and to play in new places, so I can’t wait to get ready for business. Hopefully I’ll get to see a lot of Canadian flags in the stands, and although it’s still early, I’ll definitely be looking for a strong performance,” he added and is looking forward to the start of the new season.
“I’m excited for 2016, I must admit. I’m still young and still improving, and it’s only been two years since I broke into the world’s top-10. My target is to to climb the rankings even further, but it’s also an Olympic year and I’m keen to do well in Rio. Hopefully Abu Dhabi can be the catalyst that I need to prepare for a big year.”
— MWTC (@MubadalaTennis) 28. Dezember 2015
Raonic announced on November 26 that he would stop working with his coach Ivan Ljubicic after a two-year, five month association. A week later, Roger Federer announced that he hired the Croat being his second coach for 2016, after the world number 3 from Switzerland had ended his two-year-association with Stefan Edberg. Raonic said that he will not add to his coaching team in the foreseeable future, relying on Ricardo Piatti as his main mentor in a third year in his box.
Raonic has been injured for much of this year and ended the season in October already, losing in round 16 to Rafael Nadal in straight sets at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Shanghai. The former world number 4 pulled out of Rome and Roland Garros with foot injury and later underwent surgery to correct a nerve problem. In December he pulled out of the IPTL competition due to back injury. For his imminent debut at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, however, he seemed to be ready.
In the other first round match in Abu Dhabi Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will face David Ferrer. The pair met four times on the tour, with the Spaniard leading 3-1 in head to head records. The 2015 season, was one of the most successful for Ferrer, winning five ATP World titles in Doha, Rio de Janeiro, Acapulco, Kuala Lumpur and Vienna. He closed the year at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, where he lost all of his three round robin matches.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to Abu Dhabi and checking out some of the sights before the tournament,” the 33-year-old Spaniard said in a release. “I have been out a number of times before so I know what ot expect and it’s all positive. The reception from the crowds is always fantastic, the playing conditions are incredible and the overall atmosphere is one of celebration, so it’s going to be al ot of fun.”
Ferrer, who married his long time girl-friend Marta Tornel in December, reached the Abu Dhabi final twice, losing to Novak Djokovic in the tournament’s fourth and sixth edition. He arrives at the eighth annual tournament this week for his fifth appearance. “The great thing about Abu Dhabi are the sports fans who always make me feel very welcome,” Ferrer said. “I’m looking forward to meeting them at Yas Mall. I hope there will be a lot of Spanish flags to support me.” The world number 7 will appear in the shopping destination ahead of the tournament on Wednesday, hosting an autograph session at 12:45pm.
Tsonga lifted only one trophy this season, winning his third Moselle Open title in Metz in September. The 30-year-old Frenchman closed the season at the Paris-Bercy Masters losing in round 16 to Tomas Berdych in straight sets. Tsonga is looking forward to start the new season in the UAE capital.
“I love coming to Abu Dhabi and I was sad to miss out last year due to an unfortunate injury. The atmosphere is always amazing and it’s really competitive with such good players in the line-up every year. Hopefully I can get the new season off to a good start in Abu Dhabi and show the fans that I appreciate their support,” the world number 10 told Sport 360 and added:
“Whoever can find their form early enough will be off to a good start ahead of the season’s first Grand Slam tournament in Australia, and for me the Mubadala World Tennis Championship is a unique opportunity to get off to a flyer in 2016.”
The winner of the match between Ferrer and Tsonga will take on the tournament’s main attraction Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals on January 1st. The 29-year-old Spaniard receives a bye in the opening round. Nadal is the only player of the so-called “top 4”, who dominated men’s tennis over the last couple of years, including Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, defending champion Andy Muray and himself to compete at this year’s edition in Abu Dhabi. It is also the first time that the current world number one will not play the MWTC.
Nonetheless, with the 14-time-Grand Slam champion Nadal in the line-up there cannot be an unattractive draw. Nadal has a difficult season behind him. Although he took three titles in 2015, winning in Buenos Aires, Stuttgart and Hamburg, he wasn’t able to grab another major trophy. In the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour Finals, he lost to world number 1 Novak Djokovic.
During the “off-season”, Nadal competed for the Indian Aces at the IPTL, headlining a clash with Roger Federer at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in New Delhi on December 12. The Spaniard defeated the 17-time Grand Slam champion 7-5 (6-4) at the exhibition event. With the start of the MWTC Nadal, who is currently ranked on 5th position, hopes to be in top shape again.
“Coming to Abu Dhabi for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship is always special, it is the perfect preparation for me to get ready for a new season,” Nadal told The National on December 19. “I feel in great shape so it should be incredible experience for me, for the other players and of course for the fans coming out to support us.”
“It’s a very important springboard for what’s to come in the season ahead. The facilities are top-notch and it’s a place I enjoy coming to. And with the strong competition lined up, I’ll be trying to set myself up for a strong campaign,” he added.
Although he might not be the headliner in Abu Dhabi, Stan Wawrinka will be the tournament’s top-seed enjoying a first round bye as well. The world number 4 from Switzerland will be the event’s highest ranked player. And in fact, Wawrinka played an incredible season. Wawrinka, who was awarded Swiss sportsman of the year, clinched three ATP World Tour titles, winning in Chennai, Rotterdam and Tokyo but crowned his season with the victory at the French Open in June. After lifting his first major trophy in Melbourne in 2014, Wawrinka therewith proved to be more than only a “one Slam wonder”.
Before he also competed at the IPTL, the 30-year-old Swiss had finished the year with the Season Finale in London, falling in the semis to compatriot Roger Federer in straight sets. Wawrinka will return to Abu Dhabi for the fourth time. Last year, he had gained one victory over Nicolas Almagro before he lost to Djokovic and Nadal.
“Abu Dhabi has been really good to me over the years and I’m looking forward to getting back on the court there in front of that excited crowd. The atmosphere is always electric and the conditions are perfect. As is always the case, the lineup is strong and the competition will be tough – but that just means it’s always great entertainment for the fans. It seems to be one of the most competitive line ups yet but that’s exactly what we look for as players; pushing ourselves early so we can start the season strong. The past few years have started very well for me and Abu Dhabi has played a part in that. I’m looking forward to it already,” told Wawrinka facing the winner of the encounter between Anderson and Raonic.
For ticket information see the tournament’s official website.