As usual, four distinct ATP250 tournaments kick off the new ATP season, all in separate parts of the globe. The first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open in Melbourne, will begin on January 16, before which the following contests serve as warm-ups for a gamut of players descending upon the Southern Hemisphere for a torrid, hot summer-y two weeks.
Routinely, the top players choose to play in different warm-ups, but there is bound to be a bit of overlapping, given that one of the tournaments is the Hopman Cup – the eight-team mixed competition in which Singles players represent their countries to compete for a trophy. Nine of the top 10 male singles players will be in action this week.
The primary destination for top-ranked players is –
THE QATAR OPEN (Doha)
The ExxonMobil Open in the middle-east is, not surprisingly, one of the biggest ATP 250 tournaments of the year, despite sharing space in the calendar with two others. At least two top-ranked players participate in this one, and it provides the most appropriate marker of preparation in the new year, as to who may begin the new season in good form. This time, World No. 1 and World No. 2 Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are headlining the event. No. 10 Tomas Berdych is their other main opponent in the draw.
HISTORY: Novak Djokovic is the defending champion. He demolished Rafael Nadal losing only three games in last year’s final. He has plenty of points to defend in the first half of the season – which will make it difficult for him to snatch the No. 1 ranking from Murray till at least the French Open in May. The first final of the year could well be between the top 2 players on the planet. Could we ask for more?
Murray has won the Qatar Open twice, back in 2008 and 2009. He alternates between Qatar and Brisbane (which he has won twice, too, in 2012 and 2013). Only one player – Federer – has won the Qatar Open thrice, with his last title here in 2011.
FAVORITE: Andy Murray
BRISBANE INTERNATIONAL (Australia)
Another prime ATP 250 tournament serves as perhaps the closest preparation for players who don’t want to make the trip all the way from Doha to acclimatize for Australia at the last moment. Brisbane is a powerpacked tournament this year – with the best of the rest, No. 3 Milos Raonic, No. 4 Stan Wawrinka, No. 5 Kei Nishikori, No. 9 Dominic Thiem and a certain No. 10 Rafael Nadal competing in the same week.
HISTORY: Milos Raonic is the defending champion. He defeated Roger Federer in the final last year, avenging his own defeat to the same opponent in 2015. Federer has made all three of the previous finals, winning just one of them. He won’t be here this year as the World No. 16, and will be competing in the friendlier Hopman Cup instead, nursing his way back into professional action after not playing a match since Wimbledon 2016.
FAVORITE: Milos Raonic
AIRCEL CHENNAI OPEN
India’s biggest tournament is also the first of the year, with current top-10 players like Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic as ex-champions. Wawrinka, who won the US Open last year, also the three-time defending champion here, also a four-time winner and five-time finalist, isn’t playing this year, despite this serving as a lucky charm for all his Grand Slam victories so far. Instead, another two-time champion and ex-US Open champion, Marin Cilic, the World No. 6, will be headlining this week. His closest competitor is ex-finalist Roberto Bautista-Agut and young gun and last year’s finalist, Borna Coric.
HISTORY: Wawrinka literally owns the courts here. four-time winner. But everyone remembers the famous 2008 edition, when Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya fought it out for more than 3.5 enthralling hours in the semifinal before the younger Spaniard prevailed. He went on to lose to Mikhail Youzhny in the final.
FAVORITE: Marin Cilic
As we speak, Roger Federer will return to competition today against Great Britain’s Dan Evans in Perth. It won’t be easy for the Swiss master, who hasn’t played for seven months on the tour – the longest he has ever gone without playing in competition in his pro-career. His compatriot and fellow great, Nadal, will be starting 2017 in Brisbane at No. 10, marking the first time since 2003 that both aren’t ranked in the top 5 in January.