Novak Djokovic started his quest for a fourth straight Dubai title with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Cedrik-Marcel Stebe on Monday. (Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images)
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, eight of the ATP's top 10 players are in the field in Dubai while most of the WTA takes a rest.
Top Guns: The vacation is over, fellas. Novak Djokovic returns to competition this week in Dubai. If the Serb was looking for a nice and easy week to fine-tune his game before Indian Wells and Miami, he's not going to get one. Djokovic could have to go through Andy Murray and Roger Federer to defend his title, with the field boasting eight of the top 10 players in the world (only Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer are missing).
If the draw holds to form, things could get very interesting later in the week, with projected quarterfinals between Djokovic/Janko Tipsarevic, Murray/Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga/Juan Martin del Potro, and Federer/Mardy Fish. Should the top four seeds come through, we'll get a rematch of the punishing Australian Open semifinal between Djokovic and Murray.
Aside from Djokovic, this is an important week for Murray. He slumped horribly last year after losing in the Australian Open final, failing to win a match until Monte Carlo in April. Another similar slump seems unlikely this year. He was much more positive after his semifinal loss in January, as he should have been. With zero points to defend until April, the World No. 4 has a great opportunity to gain some ground in the rankings and close the gap on No. 3-ranked Federer.
That said, the Scot has never made it past the quarterfinals here and he's already noted the courts in Dubai are playing very quick this week. That plays right into Federer's hands. After that patchy Davis Cup weekend in Fribourg, Switzerland, the Maestro won his first title of the year in Rotterdam.
As for the rest of the field, apart from Fish, the top contenders are coming in hot. Del Potro, Tsonga and Tipsarevic all made the final four in Marseille last week, where Del Potro won the title, and Berdych has made it to the semifinals of the last two tournaments he played including a win earlier this month in Montpellier.
Early-round matches to watch: Del Potro vs. Dolgopolov, Tsonga vs. Baghdatis, Gasquet vs. Youzhny.
My pick: Djokovic def. Federer.
Let's try this again: John Isner and Andy Roddick headline the field in Delray Beach, both looking to rebound after disappointing Memphis campaigns (Isner lost to eventual champion Jurgen Melzer in the third round and Roddick lost his opening match to Xavier Malisse). Isner, who rose to a career-high No. 11 this week, is now less than 700 points outside the top 10, a gap he could close in the next month and a half if he gets on a roll.
As for Roddick, until he has the time to rest his body and recuperate from his injuries, it's hard to place any expectations for his performance here. He's got a tough first-round match against Philipp Petzschner, who has the firepower to get Roddick moving and expose his movement issues.
Bernard Tomic is also looking to find his feet. He lost in the first round of Memphis and things don't get easier for him here. He's drawn Tommy Haas in the first round, then could get Memphis champion Jurgen Melzer in the second round, Isner in the third, and Roddick in the semis. We know he can perform at the Slams, but these are the tournaments that Tomic needs to do well in to prove he's a year-round threat.
Early-round matches to watch: Roddick vs. Petzschner, Tomic vs. Haas, Young vs. Sweeting, Cilic vs. Nieminen,
My pick: Isner def. Kohlschreiber.
One final swing: The four-tournament spring clay court series through Latin America known as the "Golden Swing" ends this week in Acapulco. David Ferrer returns to defend his title on the heels of beating Nicolas Almagro to win Buenos Aires. Looking at the draw, it's hard to see anyone stopping these two from meeting in the final again.
My pick: Ferrer def. Almagro.
WTA break: After the Doha/Dubai swing, the big names on the WTA are taking this week off to rest and travel to Indian Wells. But a few grinders are still in action, including Dubai champion and newly-minted No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska, who heads a relatively weak field in Kuala Lumpur. The tournament was hit so hard by withdrawals due to its placement in such a packed schedule that three of the top four seeds are wildcards.
Early-round matches to watch: Jankovic vs. Garcia, Dellaqua vs. Jovanovski.
My pick: Radwanksa d. Jankovic.
The fatigue factor: With the schedule more impacted than ever this year because of the Olympics, I've got my eye on player scheduling. We're not even into the Indian Wells/Miami swing yet and there are a few players who already have "burn out" hovering over their heads. Federer's decision to alter his schedule this year to play Davis Cup, Rotterdam and Dubai was surprising given that the last time he played all three was eight years ago in 2004. It worked for him back then. He went on to win Dubai and Indian Wells, before losing to some upstart named Rafael Nadal in Miami. Other notable schedules: Del Potro is playing his third straight tournament this week, which means with Indian Wells and Miami coming up he could be heading for almost seven straight weeks on the road. Radwanska's last-minute decision to take a wild card into Kuala Lumpur also means she's played three straight weeks heading into the spring North American swing. And while Roddick's decision to honor his commitments is admirable, it's hard not to question the wisdom of playing three back-to-back tournaments, plus an exhibition at Madison Square Garden, before Indian Wells and Miami. Granted he's not playing a bunch of matches, but the traveling can't be great for his injury rehab either.