When former World No. 1 Roger Federer adopted a seasonal home, relishing the intense heat of the Arab desert–he hoisted his Swiss flag over Dubai's annual tennis event, causing the tournament’s popularity to soar.
Federer lives and trains rigorously in magnificent surroundings in the United Arab Emirates city where an explosion of ultra modern facilities has created a mecca for top sports personalities.
It is where the Swiss spends his off season—the time between the year-end ATP World Tour Finals and the Australian Open prior to the Dubai Tennis Championships. Federer often frequents his Dubai residence throughout the year, carving out practice time from his crowded calendar. No one takes training more seriously than Federer who understands that being fit is crucial to success on court.
The tennis tournament, in existence since 1993, was first known as the Dubai Men’s Open. This year will mark its nineteenth season held in the opulent city renowned for its hot desert sun.
In 2002 when Federer first played the tournament in Dubai, he found himself seeded No. 6. The Swiss was promptly eliminated in the second round by German Rainer Schuettler 6-3, 6-1. This was hardly an auspicious beginning for Federer. But then, the former World No. 1 was just beginning to find his professional form in 2002.
When Federer returned in 2003, he vowed to make it to the final. He accomplished that without dropping a set. In the final Federer dispatched Czech Jiri Novak in a straight set win 6-1, 7-6.
After losing in the fourth round of the 2003 Australian Open to his arch rival David Nalbandian in five sets, Federer went on to win in Marseille, defeating Jonas Bjorkman 6-2, 7-6 in the final.
After his triumph in Dubai, Federer won on clay in Munich and on grass at Halle. Federer captured his first grand slam event, the 2003 Wimbledon Championship over big serving Mark Philippoussis 7-6, 6-2, 7-6. Later the Swiss won in Vienna on indoor carpet over Carlos Moya and polished off the year winning the Tennis Masters Cup over Andre Agassi. 2003 was a good year after Dubai–winning seven finals on the year.
In 2004, the Swiss once again marched through the field to arrive at the Dubai final. There Federer faced Spaniard Feliciano Lopez with the big left-handed serve who managed to take a set off the Swiss in a losing effort—4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
2004 became one of Federer’s first years of dominance on tour. The Swiss started off well winning the 2004 Australian Open, defeating Marat Safin. After stumbling over Tim Henman in Rotterdam, Federer came back to win in Dubai. He followed that with a win at Indian Wells over that same Henman who tripped him up in Rotterdam.
Federer won on clay in Hamburg but lost to Gustavo Kuerten at the French Open in round three. Federer then captured a title in Halle before winning his second consecutive Wimbledon championship. The Swiss conquered his home tournament in Gstaad, won the Rogers Cup in Canada and captured his first U.S. Open title, defeating Lleyton Hewitt in the final.
Federer polished off 2004 by winning in Bangkok and by securing his second consecutive season ending Tennis Masters Cup over the Aussie Hewitt. Federer had won three out of the four major championships while losing five matches on the year–six if you count his upset at the 2004 Olympics by Tomas Berdych.
In 2005, again the No. 1 seed, Federer won the Dubai tournament for the third consecutive time. This time the Swiss faced big serving Croat Ivan Ljubicic in the final. Federer won 6-1, 6-7, 6-3. In 2005, Federer won everything, suffering only four losses on the season.
The Swiss' first defeat came at the Australian Open when Marat Safin got the best of him in the semifinals. He lost again to Richard Gasquet in the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo and then to Rafael Nadal in the semifinals at Roland Garros. Finally Federer lost to David Nalbandian in the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. Winning in Dubai, however, was becoming a habit.
After winning three championships in a row, however, Federer’s run through Dubai came to a screeching halt when he ran into a stubborn Rafael Nadal in the 2006 final. Nadal won, shocking everyone because hard courts were not the Majorcan’s forte. They were supposed to be Federer’s best surface next to grass. Regardless, in 2006, Federer lost to Nadal after taking the first set—6-2, 4-6, 4-6.
Federer had begun the year winning both at Doha and the Australian Open. After Nadal clipped Federer in Dubai, the Majorcan made it a habit in 2006 defeating Federer in three consecutive clay finals in Monte Carlo, Rome and at Roland Garros–the French Open. Federer reestablished his winning ways on grass, winning Halle and Wimbledon.
The Swiss did not lose again until Andy Murray defeated Federer in Cincinnati in the second round. Federer won out the rest of the year after his fifth loss, again winning three of the four majors for the second time.
Federer returned to form in 2007, defeating Mikhail Youzhny in the Dubai final 6-4, 6-3. Youzhny had defeated Nadal in the third round, then went on to overcome Robin Soderling in the semifinals to make the finals in 2007. Federer had defeated Novak Djokovic and Tommy Haas to get to his fifth consecutive Dubai final—winning the last four out of five.
But after winning both the 2007 Australian Open and Dubai, something strange began to happen to the Swiss. He lost back to back at Indian Wells and Miami, both to Guillermo Canas of Argentina. Federer had won these two major hard court Masters tournaments back to back for the past two years.
After that Federer lost to Nadal in the finals at Monte Carlo and then shockingly to No. 53 ranked Filippo Volandri in the third round at Rome. Federer came back to win in Hamburg but lost again in the French Open finals to Nadal. In all, Federer lost eight matches in 2007, but still won three out of four majors in back to back years.
In 2008 Federer was shocked in the first round of Dubai defeated by Andy Murray. After being knocked out of the semifinals of the Australian Open by Novak Djokovic, this defeat in the desert would mark a continuation of a bad year ahead—and the revelation of the case on mononucleosis that would plague the World No. 1 for most of the year.
Andy Roddick came through to win the Dubai tournament over Feliciano Lopez. Roddick defeated Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to make the final. Lopez defeated Nikolay Davydenko to reach his second final in this event.
Federer did not win a tournament until April in Estoril. The world did not know what to make of this strange turn of events. Federer did win in Halle but lost at Wimbledon for the first time since 2003 to Rafael Nadal in five excruciating sets of tennis. Federer salvaged his year by winning the U.S. Open over Andy Murray. In the end Federer won only four finals in 2008 and lost his No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2004.
In 2009 Federer did not play in Dubai after losing the Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal in another five set epic. Nadal also withdrew. Novak Djokovic came through the draw to meet David Ferrer in the Dubai final. Djokovic made the final after defeating Frenchman Gilles Simon in the semifinals. Ferrer defeated Richard Gasquet who received his place in the semifinals when Andy Murray had to withdraw due to injury. Djokovic won this first Dubai final 7-5, 6-3.
Last year in 2010, Federer again withdrew due a lingering lung infection suffered after Federer won the Australian Open. The lung infection lingered on, making Federer’s life miserable. His tennis suffered as well. For his part, Djokovic came back to win this tournament over Mikhail Youzhny 7-5, 5-7, 6-3.
After missing the Dubai tournament for two years, Federer is back again in 2011 as the No. 1 seed. Novak Djokovic will return as well to try to win his third consecutive championship in Dubai. The two men are within 85 ranking points of each other with Federer holding a slight edge. At the last minute, the No. 5 seed Andy Murray withdrew citing a wrist injury.
Action gets underway on Monday. Will this be another stellar year for Federer starting off a run of good luck by capturing his fifth Dubai championship? Stay tuned...