Roger Federer will not be accepting a last-minute wildcard into the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships that starts on Monday, tournament director Salah Tahlak confirmed on Friday.
Federer, who secured a return to the No. 1 ranking by reaching the semi-finals and eventually winning the title in Rotterdam last week, has been a regular in Dubai, competing here 13 times and capturing the trophy on seven occasions.
The Swiss had hinted that he could be coming to Dubai, which could have extended the gap between him and Rafael Nadal in the world rankings (Federer is currently a mere 345 points ahead).
But Tahlak says he spoke to Federer’s agent Tony Godsick two days ago and the American informed him the Swiss has chosen to rest this upcoming week before heading to Indian Wells and Miami where he is defending champion in both.
“I understand and I believe whatever’s good for him is good for us. You can’t really push him more,” Tahlak said in an interview with Sport360 and The National.
“Because had he not won in Rotterdam he would have definitely come here. I really respect him, as a professional and as an athlete. He’s on top of all athletes really, with all due respect to all the players, WTA and ATP, but I think he’s a really different personality. He’s so classy and has done well for the game, has done well for Dubai. He’s a legend.”
Tahlak added: “For him it would have been a good year to come and then maybe add another 500 points. It would have been easier for him. It’s always difficult when (Rafael) Nadal and (Novak) Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan (Wawrinka), none of them were here, so it would have been easy for him.
“Again, in the end he decided with his coach and physios, they know him best. As Tony said he has to look at it health-wise, because in August he’s going to be 37 years old. For me, I can’t say anything, but that I wish him all the best.”
Tahlak sounded confident that Federer will be coming to compete in Dubai in the future, saying: “Probably, because Tony (his agent) said yes, if we can plan things ahead, he will come back next year.”
For a tournament that has an ATP 500 status, Dubai has often had such strong fields that resembled some of the biggest events in the world.
Federer, Djokovic, Murray and many other marquee names have frequented the tournament but this year, Grigor Dimitrov is the only top-10 player present in the draw.
Tahlak has confirmed that Dimitrov has indeed arrived to Dubai.
“Dimitrov is here. He’s not staying here (pointing to the on-site Jumeirah Creekside hotel), he wants to be away from the rest, you know, typical top-10 player,” said Tahlak.
Tahlak says that the tournament usually secures deals with top players as early as Wimbledon the previous year, although sometimes negotiations are completed by the US Open. He revealed that in the past, multiple three-year deals were made with Federer and Djokovic to play in Dubai.
“Andy confirmed and then halfway through said he can’t make it. Stan almost, 50/50, Novak 50/50. At the same time, the rest they will go to Acapulco,” admitted Tahlak.
Acapulco used to be played on clay up until it was switched to hard-court in 2014. Tahlak says that change has had a negative effect on the Dubai tournament.
“It’s a direct competition. Double-up week, very difficult. It was better when they were clay, but since they changed court in 2014 it’s a direct competition, a direct head-to-head with us,” said the Emirati.
“Another advantage Acapulco has got, is that it’s closer to Indian Wells. It’s a three-hour flight versus 15 hours.”
While Tahlak is confident that the Dubai tournament has enough tradition to attract fans even without the usual star-studded field, he says people should also start realising that a transitional period is coming in tennis where the likes of Federer and Nadal will retire and younger players will take their place.
“A lot of them don’t understand it’s no longer like it was. Like in football, at one point people will no longer think about Messi or Ronaldo, in a way the players will all fade out one day, they’re all going to go,” he says.
“So we have to accept that. I think we’ve been good for many years and I believe we should focus on the new generation. That’s really also what ATP president Chris Kermode is promoting at the moment, the Next Generation. Because how many more years will Roger last? Two more? And even Nadal… all of them. It’s the end of their tennis careers. The younger ones are doing well as well.
“The fans should understand tennis is like any other sport. It moves up and down, this is the game.”
Tahlak also hit out at offseason exhibition tournaments, saying they are contributing to the increase in players’ injuries.
“Another problem is that a lot of players they do also play in the offseason, so that gives them more money, but also more injuries and more risk to their health. Some of them use it as practice,” he added.
“Financially it means a lot for them, but also a risk of injuries. And that’s what we’re all suffering from, the other tournaments.”
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