The first day of 2015 saw some of the world’s best tennis players get back to business in Abu Dhabi, with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal hitting the practice court in idyllic conditions and Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka recording wins on the first day of competition in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
Andy Murray won the inaugural Abu Dhabi exhibition event in 2009 but has struggled for form in the United Arab Emirates capital in recent years, so the Scot was delighted to grind out a hard-fought three set victory over Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the first match on the opening day of play. After the players exchanged an early break of the serve in the first set, a tiebreaker was required to separate the pair. It was one-way traffic in the tiebreaker, with Murray dropping just one point and sealing the set with an ace.
The second set was a tight affair and, although both players looked a little rusty after the offseason, there was still plenty of entertainment for the crowd, including a spectacular left-handed winner by Murray. But the Scot lost concentration in the twelfth game of the set, turning in a sloppy service game to hand the set to Lopez, 7-5. The final set was full of drama, with multiple breaks of serve before Murray finally converted his fourth match point to earn a 7-6(1) 5-7 6-4 victory in 2 hours and 29 minutes.
Murray will now face 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in today’s semi-finals, as the Spaniard looks to get his career back on track after the second half of his 2014 season was torn apart by injury. A two-time champion in Abu Dhabi, Nadal will be looking to get in as much match practice as possible before the Australian Open gets underway at Melbourne Park in less than 3 weeks. The Spanish superstar moved well in practice yesterday and I think he will get the better of Murray today, against whom he holds a commanding 15-5 career record. I suspect last night’s gruelling affair will leave Murray sapped of energy today, which is far from the ideal preparation for a match against Nadal, no matter how long the 9-time French Open champion has been out of the sport. On that basis, look for Nadal to squeeze past Murray in two tight sets.
Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic have played out some pulsating matches in the last couple of years, with a couple of clashes at Melbourne Park and one at Flushing Meadows immediately springing to mind. Wawrinka booked another match-up against the world’s top-ranked player by dispatching Spain’s Nicolas Almagro in straight sets last night, recovering from an early break of serve to register a 6-3 6-2 victory in just over an hour. Winless previously in Abu Dhabi, Wawrinka looked full of confidence as he served strongly and hit his backhand with conviction against Almagro, who is on the recovery path after foot and shoulder problems plagued him in 2014.
Wawrinka has shown over the past few years that he possesses the firepower to trouble Djokovic and, after pushing the Serb to the wire at the Australian and US Opens in 2013, the Swiss star finally defeated Djokovic in a Grand Slam at last year’s Australian Open, going on to win the title and claim his maiden major title. Accordingly, Wawrinka will fancy his chances heading into this match, and last night’s match will have given him a good feel for the conditions on the centre court, which plays a bit faster than the outside courts at Zayed Sports City. That said, Djokovic finished 2014 in exemplary fashion and, having never lost in Abu Dhabi, it’s hard to bet against him. I can see the players splitting the first two sets, with Djokovic’s consistency and superior court movement giving him the edge in the decider.
That’s it for today. I’ll be back tomorrow with a recap of today’s semi-finals and a preview of tomorrow night’s final. For all the latest news from Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi, follow me on Twitter: @satelliteserve.