The 2016 international tennis season is about to kick off – and it all starts right here in the capital. If you’re fan of the fast-paced sport, this year’s tournament is set to be a smash!
From 31st December to 2nd January, some of the best singles male tennis players in the world will slug it out against each other to see who comes out on top at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (WTC).
Hosted annually since 2009, the tournament has welcomed names like popular Scotsman Andy Murray and court jester, but undoubted superstar, Novak Djokovic.
This year, six of the world’s top players battle it out on court for a shot at the ‘winner-takes-all’ prize of $25,000 (AED 91,820).
Last year’s victor Murray won’t be returning to defend his title; instead Abu Dhabi will greet perpetual also-ran Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, tournament debutant Kevin Anderson, reigning French Open champion Stan Wawrinka, Spaniards David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal and youngster Milos Raonic.
The championship will open with a highly anticipated match between Ferrer and Tsonga before Anderson and Raonic go head-to-head on 31st December. Nadal and Wawrinka will advance straight to the semi-finals on day two to compete against the winners of day one.
The championship could be anyone’s.
Singles wins: 12
Fun fact: Tsonga enjoys juggling tennis balls
World ranking: 10
Mubadala WTC appearances: 3
This Frenchman was cast into the limelight in 2008’s Australian Open. Despite defeating then world no.2 Nadal, Tsonga lost to Djokovic in the final after winning the first set anyone had won from him during the tournament. This marked the beginning of a series of losses that set Tsonga up as an also-ran, although he is ironically one of only three players to boast a Grand Slam win against the ‘Big Four’ (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray). Tsonga also holds the fictitious title of reaching the quarter finals for all four Grand Slams. Will things look up for Tsonga in 2016?
Nationality: South African
Singles wins: 3
Fun fact: At 6’8″, Anderson has an imposing and powerful serve
World ranking: 12
Mubadala WTC appearances: 0
This year, Anderson has worked hard and it’s paid off: he reached his highest career world ranking at no.10, making him the first South African in the top 10 since Wayne Ferreira in 1997. Anderson also advanced to his first Grand Slam quarter final at the US open, knocking out world no.2 Murray. He ended the season with his best results since 2010. Will he be victorious at his first Abu Dhabi tournament?
Singles wins: 67
Fun fact: Dubbed the King of Clay for his exceptional skill on the clay court
World ranking: 5
Mubadala WTC appearances: 7
Crowd favourite Nadal had a tough season this year with a fall in the rankings – dropping from third to tenth and ending in fifth. This year broke the Spaniard’s decade-long streak of winning at least one Grand Slam tournament each season, one year short of a new record. But 2016 may see Nadal back on winning form, starting with a victory in Abu Dhabi.
Singles wins: 11
Fun fact: ‘Stan the Man’ was named 2013 Swiss of the Year
World ranking: 4
Mubadala WTC appearances: 4
Last season was Wawrinka’s best yet, winning his second Grand Slam tournament and his first French Open as well as qualifying for the quarter final of Wimbledon and the semi-final of the US Open. While Wawrinka’s commanding serve of 232kph is a force to be reckoned with, his forehand was considered a weakness. However, showing significant improvement in his form, this Swiss may well give Nadal a run for his money in the semis.
Singles wins: 26
Fun fact: An avid reader who keeps every book he reads
World ranking: 7
Mubadala WTC appearances: 4
During the season, Ferrer locked in a total of five titles but lost his first match at Wimbledon from an elbow injury and was knocked out in the early stages of the US Open. The Spaniard’s ability to run his opponents around allows him to succeed on all types of courts and his impressive foot speed results in being able to cut off opponents’ shots and volleys. Will 2016 be his year to break into the top four?
Singles wins: 7
Fun fact: Founded the Milos Raonic Foundation in 2012 to help disadvantaged youth through sport
World ranking: 14
Mubadala WTC appearances: 0
It seems there’s no stopping this Montenegro-born Canadian who reached his highest ever ranking at world no.4 in May this year. Even after slipping down to 14th, the Big Four are keeping an eye on this youngster. Djokovic called his serves “very powerful, very precise” and Nadal pointed him out as a new young player to keep an eye on. If he keeps on form, this Abu Dhabi debutant might be starting off the 2016 season on a high with a win in the capital.
World no.7 David Ferrer tells us what he loves about Mubadala WTC and why 2016 is shaping up to be the toughest tournament yet.
This isn’t your first time taking part in the Mubadala WTC. What makes you return and how does it compare to other tournaments?
This tournament is special. It is always such a pleasure to come and play; there is
always a lot of excitement in the crowd and the setup in Abu Dhabi is world class.
Abu Dhabi kicks off the season. What’s your mindset as you enter the championship?
It’s the first tournament after the pre-season and I am always very excited to get the season underway. The players are always very strong so I know exactly what I can expect this year: tough, fast and exciting tennis. I know Rafa and Milos will set the standards very high and it’s certainly looking like one of the most competitive tournaments yet. In front of the packed stadium in Abu Dhabi with an excited atmosphere, it’s going to be great for the fans and the players.
What are your goals for the 2016 season?
I have a lot to play for in 2016, a lot of goals to reach and the focus is always to improve on the previous year. As an athlete there is always a danger of switching off between big tournaments so being able to compete at a high level at this stage of the year is exactly what is needed to help find the right form going into the year ahead.
You’re considered one of the best returners in the sport. How do you use that
to your advantage?
I try to practise every day because I don’t have a fast service and I need to have a good return.
Who’s your toughest competition at the moment?
There are many players that are on very good form but I think that Novak, during 2015, was very solid.
You’re one of the older players on the tour. How do you stay fit?
Good fitness, good nutrition and taking all the rest that I can.
Learn the lingo
Do you know your smash from you serve, your let from your love? Before you head courtside, here’s some vital vocab.
Serve: Shot that begins each point in which the server hits the ball after tossing it into the air
Ace: Winning serve that the opponent fails to return
Deuce: A score of 40-40, after which a player must win two back-to-back points to win the game
Advantage: A player who scores a point at ‘deuce’ has the advantage. If they win the next point, they win the game
Love: Scoring term indicating zero points
Break: To beat an opponent in a game in which the opponent is serving
Break point: A point that will result in a break of service if it’s won by the receiver
Fault: An error in the serve if the ball does not clear the net or lands outside the service box
Double fault: Two faults in a row will result in the server losing the point
Drop shot: A gentle shot that lands just over and close to the net
Game point: A point that will end the game if it is won by the leading player
Let: A shot that must be replayed such as if a serve touches the top of the net
Set: In scoring, a player must win at least six games to win a set
Need to know
What: Mubadala World Tennis Championship
When: 31st December to 2nd January
Where: International Tennis Stadium, Zayed Sports City
Tickets: From AED 100. Available at all Virgin Megastores across the UAE or online at ticketmaster.ae