By Florian Heer
(February 24, 2014) DUBAI – Five of the world’s top ten players headline the 22nd edition of this year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which started on Monday with the men’s main draw. The 32-man field is led by defending champion Novak Djokovic and five-time winner Roger Federer. The other top-ten players participating this week are Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
In the first match on Centre Court qualifier Lukas Lacko faced Dmitry Tursonov for the first time. Lacko is making his third appearance in Dubai and reaching the second round has been his best result so far. The Russian, making his fourth start here, advanced into last year’s quarterfinal where he lost to Berdych. Tursonov also made a strong start into this year’s tournament beating the Slovakian in straight sets 7-6, 6-1.
“I don’t think it was a beautiful match in terms of shot making, especially in the first set,” the Russian said afterwards. “It’s pretty tough to play with a combination of the balls are pretty hard to control and then the courts, which don’t seem very fast. I mean it’s hard to complain when you win, but, you know, I think there are quite a few things that I could have done better today,” Tursonov explained.
In the second round the eighth seed could face either Rosol or Brands. “They both serve very big. Both actually hit pretty big as well. It will be interesting how they play in these conditions,” Tursonov talked about his possible upcoming opponents. He seemed to remain cool today. “Do you think this here is a terrific heat? – You should have been in Melbourne this year,” the Russian laughed.
Out on Court number one Roberto Bautista-Agut took on another qualifier Adrian Ungur. The Spaniard won the last two meetings between the two at ATP Challenger events in Italy and also today the world number 51 from Castellón was in total control of the match winning in only 66 minutes 6-1, 6-3 to set a possible second round clash against Novak Djokovic.
The encounter was followed by the Serb’s first appearance for this year. Djokovic started his doubles campaign by entering the draw through a wild card and teaming up with Carlos Gomez-Herrera. The Serbian-Spanish tandem faced the combination of Tomasz Bednarek and Lukas Dlouhy. Of course the Spanish world number 335, who won two doubles titles with Djokovic’s younger brother Marko on the ITF Future Tour, was the weakest link on court but the world number two didn’t play at his best level either. Djokovic even double faulted during the match tie-break and finally the wild cards lost the encounter 5-7, 6-1, 5-10 after 68 minutes.
Back on Centre Court Andreas Seppi, who has only won one match so far this year against Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open took on Florian Mayer. The German is making his first appearance in Dubai since 2011, where he reached the quarterfinals. Mayer is in a good shape this year, opened the season with a semi-final appearance in Doha, where he posted a win over Andy Murray. He also reached the stage of the last sixteen in Melbourne, upsetting Mikhail Youzhny and Jerzy Janowicz before he lost to David Ferrer. Moreover Germany’s number three player contributed a singles victory to the 4-1 win of his country against Spain at the first round Davis Cup tie in Frankfurt this month.
Mayer also made a strong start into today’s match breaking his opponent’s serve in the opening game to eventually take the first set after 42 minutes. During the middle of the second frame, however, the German lost his consistency and Seppi broke his serve two times in a row. Mayer seemed to get his rhythm back, gained a 4-1 lead over the Italian in the final set but had to suffer a re-break and lost another service in the eleventh game, which should become the decisive one. In the following, the Italian served out winning 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 in just under two hours.
“Being 1-4 down in the third, and I just tried to keep fighting. I didn’t have so many matches under my belt this year, so I tried to stay in the match and he gave me some chances to come back. It think at 4-3 I played a few good games, a little bit more aggressive. For sure it was an important win for me,” Seppi said about his comeback.
The Italian could face Kohlschreiber in the next round. “We always have some tough matches. The last one was last year in Paris Bercy, where I lost 4-6 in the third set. I know that it can be for sure an interesting match,” the 30-year-old said.
Roger Federer has returned to Dubai for the 11th time. The Swiss has won the title here five times, the last one in 2012 when he defeated Andy Murray in the final. In 2014 Federer has only played two tournaments so far. He opened his season with a run to the final in Brisbane and reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open. Today he took on Benjamin Becker. The German finished last year within the top 100 for the second straight year but has not been able to win a single set against Federer in three previous meetings and same should happen today. It was just “FedExpress” rolling over the German. Federer played in a very attacking style winning the match in only 62 minutes 6-1, 6-4. “I’m extremely happy with today’s match, coming out and playing free tennis like that right off the bat is a good feeling,” the Swiss said afterwards. “I know probably Benjamin has been doing a lot of travelling back and forth, Australia, Europe, America, back to Dubai, back for Indian Wells and Miami, but you’ve got to take advantage of that. I have been here for some time. I had a good preparation and I’m happy it paid off,” he added.
In the final match of the day Philipp Kohlschreiber met qualifier Thiemo de Bakker for the first time. The German is making his sixth appearance in Dubai and has never gone beyond the second round, whereas the Dutchman is making his debut in the desert. This time the seventh-seed from Augsburg made a good start at the tournament. Kohlschreiber broke serve in the seventh and ninth game to gain the opening set in only 31 minutes. The world No. 25 drew first blood in the second set by breaking de Bakker’s service in the second game. The Dutchman was visibly annoyed by his own performance today and his was moaning a lot on the court.
Another service loss by De Bakker in the fourth game and Kohlschreiber was on the winning streak taking the match 6-3, 6-3 in 64 minutes. “At the beginning Thiemo served pretty well but then in the middle of the opening set, I found my way into the match,” the German said. “I was very satisfied with my performance today. For sure it was different to play in the evening today, the balls didn’t bounce that high and the court was maybe a bit slower, which is quite normal on this kind of surfaces. Overall it was very nice and comfortable to play here,” Kohlschreiber added.
Florian Heer travels the tennis tour with a focus on ATP Challenger events and the ITF Futures Circuit. Follow his twitter account @Florian _Heer.
Results for February 24, 2014
Singles – First Round
 R Federer (SUI) d B Becker (GER) 61 64
 P Kohlschreiber (GER) d [Q] T de Bakker (NED) 63 63
 D Tursunov (RUS) d [Q] L Lacko (SVK) 75 61
R Bautista Agut (ESP) d [Q] A Ungur (ROU) 61 63
A Seppi (ITA) d F Mayer (GER) 46 61 75
Doubles – First Round
 R Bopanna (IND) / A Qureshi (PAK) d [Q] N Davydenko (RUS) / V Hanescu (ROU) 61 57 10-8
J Del Potro (ARG) / R Stepanek (CZE) d  I Dodig (CRO) / M Youzhny (RUS) 63 75
T Bednarek (POL) / L Dlouhy (CZE) d [WC] N Djokovic (SRB) / C Gomez-Herrera (ESP) 75 16 10-5
SCHEDULE – TUESDAY, 25 FEBRUARY, 2014
CENTRE COURT start 2:00 pm
[Q] M Copil (ROU) vs  T Berdych (CZE)
Not Before 4:00 pm
[WC] S Devvarman (IND) vs  J Del Potro (ARG)
Not Before 7:00 pm
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs D Istomin (UZB)
 J Tsonga (FRA) vs V Hanescu (ROU)
COURT 1 start 2:00 pm
M Przysiezny (POL) vs  M Youzhny (RUS)
 D Nestor (CAN) / N Zimonjic (SRB) vs [WC] O Awadhy (UAE) / H Janahi (UAE)
T Gabashvili (RUS) vs [WC] J Ward (GBR)
N Davydenko (RUS) vs A Golubev (KAZ)
COURT 2 start 2:00 pm
L Rosol (CZE) vs D Brands (GER)
[WC] M Jaziri (TUN) vs I Sijsling (NED)
J Knowle (AUT) / J Peers (AUS) vs D Brands (GER) / F Mayer (GER)
J Marray (GBR) / D Tursunov (RUS) vs R Bautista Agut (ESP) / I Sijsling (NED)
COURT 3 start 2:00 pm
R Stepanek (CZE) vs M Russell (USA)
I Dodig (CRO) vs S Stakhovsky (UKR)
L Rosol (CZE) / A Seppi (ITA) vs  M Fyrstenberg (POL) / M Matkowski (POL) )