Four things we learned from the Dubai Tennis Championships

Russia’s Daniil Medvedev accompanied by his wife Daria Chernyshkova poses with his trophy after winning over Andrey Rublev in the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship final match in Dubai. (AFP)
Russia’s Daniil Medvedev accompanied by his wife Daria Chernyshkova poses with his trophy after winning over Andrey Rublev in the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship final match in Dubai. (AFP)
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Updated 06 March 2023

Four things we learned from the Dubai Tennis Championships

Daniil Medvedev accompanied by his wife after winning in the ATP Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship final in Dubai.
  • Medvdev is back, Djokovic eyes more records and Rublev shows his resilience on court

An exciting fortnight of tennis has come to a close in Dubai with former world number one Daniil Medvedev securing his first triumph in the Emirates with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over his fellow Russian Andrey Rublev in Saturday’s final.

Here’s what we learned from the action during ATP week of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Medvedev is back

Doubts were swirling in Daniil Medvedev’s mind after he lost in straight sets in the Australian Open third round to Sebastian Korda in January.

Just 11 months earlier, the Russian was ranked No.1 in the world; suddenly he was outside the top 10 and feeling like he cannot win a match.

“I was feeling bad. I was doubting myself before Rotterdam. I was not feeling good at all,” said Medvedev on Saturday.

“I have a story. I went to one of the Russian guys getting ready for my match with [Alejandro] Davidovich Fokina. I won’t tell you who it is. I was like, ‘Come on, man, tell me how to win a match’.

“He was like, ‘You know better than me.’ I was like, ‘No, I don’t know anything at the moment.’”

That was mid-February. Medvedev hasn’t lost a match since, claiming 14 consecutive victories within a 19-day period, which earned him three titles in a row in Rotterdam, Doha and now Dubai.

“After every tournament now he’s texting me, ‘So is it okay now?’” Medvedev continued. “I feel ashamed. But that’s how tennis is. I managed to keep some confidence going and I’m really happy about it.”

Medvedev’s stay outside the top 10 was brief — only three weeks — but it sparked something in him and he will move back up to No.6 in the rankings on Monday, thanks to the 1,250 points he collected in his last three events.

His run in Dubai was the most impressive part of his hat-trick, as he defeated world No.1 Novak Djokovic and former No.6 Andrey Rublev, both in straight sets, in the semi-finals and final.

After suffering nine consecutive losses against top-10 players, Medvedev has now won his last four, all in the last three weeks.

With huge charisma on and off the court, it’s great to see Medvedev back to his best. His court coverage, serving and returning were all exceptional in Dubai and his wit was on point in all his press conferences.


Djokovic hungry as ever

Djokovic laughed when asked in Dubai if there was a possibility of him beating Rafael Nadal on the Spaniard’s beloved clay at Roland Garros later this year.

“If it’s not a possibility, my friend, I wouldn’t be playing tennis,” replied the world No.1, who will be targeting a men’s all-time record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam title at the French Open this spring.

The 35-year-old Serb returned from a hamstring injury in the Emirates this week, and posted wins over Tomas Machac, Tallon Griekspoor and Hubert Hurkacz before falling to Medvedev in the semi-finals.

Even though his undefeated 15-0 start to this season was snapped by Medvedev, Djokovic can take lots of positives from Dubai, where he looked particularly sharp in the second round and the quarter-finals.

He is very clear on his targets for the rest of the year, where he wants to peak for the Grand Slams and move past Rafael Nadal, who currently shares the record with Djokovic, with 22 majors each.

“I still have lots of desire to break records,” Djokovic said after his second round last Wednesday.

On Monday, Djokovic will begin his 379th week as world No.1, a record. He will likely miss Indian Wells and Miami due to US regulations preventing unvaccinated people from entering the country but that might end up serving him well as it would allow him to fully focus on training on the clay in the build-up to Roland Garros, which is his next big goal on the agenda.

Rublev all heart, on and off the court

He chalked it up to luck, but anyone who watched Rublev save five match points in a row, from 1-6 down in the second-set tiebreak, against Davidovich Fokina in the second round will tell you this was all about heart.

The 25-year-old Russian then defeated two players he had never beaten before, Botic van de Zandschulp, who was 2-0 against Rublev head-to-head, and Alexander Zverev, who was 5-0 against him.

After ousting Zverev in the semis, Rublev scribbled “Tsoi is alive” on a TV camera lens — a nod to the late Soviet rock star Viktor Tsoi, who was a frontman of the band Kino.

Rublev said Tsoi’s powerful lyrics helped bring hope to people and called for change during the 1980s before he died in a car crash at the age of 28.


“He’s an artist from a past generation that had huge volume I think on USSR because his voice was really powerful. It was not an easy time. The lyrics that he was writing gave a lot of hope to the people at that time. I just wrote it (Tsoi is alive) because I feel that now, at this time, is happening similar things,” Rublev said.

A year on from when Rublev first wrote “no war please” on a camera lens in Dubai, he reiterated his call for peace this past week, in yet another courageous act.

“You cannot act like nothing is happening because it’s horrible. It’s crazy that so many just normal citizens are suffering, dying,” said Rublev on Friday.

“It’s not easy that it’s happening in our time when we have all the mobile phones, Internet, social media. There are kids, they just want to do TikTok. 

He said he hoped that there would be “peace in every country.”

Middle East swing appealing to more and more players

Both the men’s and women’s fields were incredibly strong in Dubai these past two weeks.

The ATP event featured four of the world’s top 10 and eight of the world’s top 20, headlined by No.1 Djokovic. The women’s tournament had eight of the world’s top 10 and 17 of the world’s top 20, headlined by No.1 Iga Swiatek.

Felix Auger-Aliassime made his Dubai debut this year, while Medvedev made his first appearance since 2019.

Up until 2020, the men’s Qatar Open was held in the first week of the season, early January, while Dubai hosted its ATP tournament at the end of February.

For a third year in a row, Doha and Dubai are staged in consecutive weeks in February on the men’s tour. This season, the women’s circuit held three events in the Middle East back-to-back in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai.

These mini swings in the region are becoming increasingly popular with the players, who find it easier to compete in tournaments that don’t require too much travel in between.

“I feel like it's a good swing,” said Auger-Aliassime about the Doha-Dubai double.

“I feel like most players in the future, if it (the schedule) stays that way, will try and play that just because we don’t have to travel a lot between Doha and Dubai. Similar conditions, which is very convenient.

“I wanted to play more outside leading to Indian Wells. I feel like these conditions here, not so humid, dry, could resemble a bit Indian Wells. I feel like it’s good preparation for what’s to come as well.

“A few reasons, but for sure the scheduling and the temperature and environment is the main cause.”