After the post-Australian Open lull, the 2023 season is starting to heat up again but before the stars of the ATP jet off to the USA for a crack at the Sunshine Double, there's a chance to land a big prize at the Dubai Tennis Championships.
WTA number one Iga Swiatek was due to contest the final of the women's event on Saturday and now the ATP's top dog is in town as Novak Djokovic bids to land the men's crown for the sixth time in his glittering career.
|What||ATP Dubai Tennis Championships|
|Where||Aviation Club Tennis Centre, Dubai, UAE|
|When||Monday 27th February - Saturday 4th March|
|How to watch||bet365's Sports Live Streaming and Amazon Prime|
As is the case virtually every time he plays, Djokovic will be the man to beat in Dubai in his first appearance since his dominant 10th triumph at the Australian Open, where he dropped just one set from seven matches.
Djokovic may have been gifted with a relatively easy run to the Melbourne Park final but there was no fluke about the straight-sets victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas which earned him a 22nd Grand Slam.
He returns to action at the Dubai Tennis Championships, a tournament in which he's been successful on five occasions, and while he's won the just title once since beating Tomas Berdych in 2013, the Serb has only visited the UAE in five subsequent events, losing out twice to Roger Federer.
While he's world number one for a reason, Djokovic faces a stern challenge from Carlos Alcaraz, who can tie his ranking points tally if he wins the Rio Open this week, but Djokovic will stay at number one by virtue of having more mandatory tournament wins.
The Serb, who could again be unable to participate in Indian Wells and Miami next month, is 3/10 to be world number one on 31st December with rising star Alcaraz considered his main rival at 3/1.
He will kick-off in Dubai against a qualifier or a lucky loser before a potential blockbuster semi-final meeting with Daniil Medvedev.
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It's Medvedev who could give Djokovic the most to think about, providing he's able to cope with the rigours of a third consecutive week contending for titles.
Medvedev endured a difficult ending to 2022, dropping from world number one to seventh in the ATP rankings, and his start to the new year was mixed at best as he was beaten comfortably by Djokovic in an Adelaide semi-final before crashing out of the Australian Open in the third round.
In Medvedev's defence, he ran into one of the most promising young players in the sport in Sebastian Korda, but the 27-year-old barely laid a glove on the American in a three-set defeat.
However, he's since roared back to win the ATP Rotterdam Open, beating several high-quality rivals on the way, and he is due to contest the final of the Qatar Open against Andy Murray on Saturday.
Djokovic may well have Medvedev's measure should they meet for a place in the final but the Russian has beaten the Australian Open champion in some of the biggest moments, including the 2020 Tour Finals and the 2021 US Open when the calendar Slam was on the line.
The Dubai dust-up is far from a two-horse race, and with Djokovic and Medvedev housed in the top half of the draw, there is ample opportunity for others to earn a spot in the final of this valuable 500 Series event.
Murray is not one among them. The Brit rolled back the years to reach the Qatar final but he's housed in the top half alongside the big guns, where he will take on the fifth seed, Poland's Hubert Hurkacz, in a difficult opening contest.
Defending champion Andrey Rublev defeated Hurkacz in the semi-finals in 2022 before going on to defeat qualifier Jiri Vesely in the final and the Russian second seed will aim to double up from his bottom-half berth.
However, after a decent run to the quarters of the Aussie Open where he bumped into Djokovic, the 25-year-old Muscovite has toiled in both Rotterdam and Qatar, losing out to Alex de Minaur and Jiri Lehecka in the early rounds.
That doesn't bode well for his title defence, nor does the fact that he faces Filip Krajinovic, who leads their personal head-to-head series 3-2, in the first round.
Instead, look for Felix Auger-Aliassime, a semi-final loser against Medvedev in both Rotterdam and Qatar, to make inroads while Australian Open semi-finalist Karen Khachanov is another interesting contender.
Alexander Zverev doesn't appear to be fully up to speed following a long injury absence so that could open the door for his first-round opponent Lehecka, who impressed in his run to the last eight in Melbourne and in reaching the Qatar semi-finals.