The 13th edition of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship will kick off slightly earlier than usual. The tournament has suffered a minor blow this year, with a few major names pulling out at the last minute. But three of the world’s Top 20 men’s players will be in action. We have predictions for action on day one.
Mubadala Championship Day 1 Predictions
Denis Shapovalov vs Taylor Fritz
Head-to-head: Shapovalov 4-1 Fritz
Denis Shapovalov and Taylor Fritz have played some grueling battles in recent years, none more thrilling than their US Open third-round match in 2020. And the quality in their two matches this season did not dimish. Fritz avenged his US Open defeat earlier this year when he defeated the Canadian lefty in Doha before Shapovalov had the last laugh in San Diego.
Shapovalov made a wise decision to pull out from Canada’s Davis Cup team after an exhaustive season. Fritz, for his part, ascended to a career-high ranking of World No. 23 after a stonking year on the ATP tour. While none of these players are masters at abosrbing pace, they make up for it with their explosive power off the ground. Shapovalov, however, shines in craft and redirecting the ball with purpose. I expect the Canadian powerhouse to emerge triumphant in this one.
Prediction: Shapovalov in 2
Ons Jabeur vs Belinda Bencic
Head-to-head: Jabeur 0-1 Bencic
Day 1 concludes with the one-off women’s match featuring Ons Jabeur and Belinda Bencic. Jabeur is a late replacement for Emma Raducanu who withdrew on the eve of the tournament after a positive COVID-19 test. The Tunisian rounded off a stellar year on the WTA tour with a maiden Top 10 finish. She tallied a tour-leading 48 match wins in 2021 (tied with Anett Kontaveit).
While Jabeur is a stoic competitor, her body did not hold up for one last push to qualify for the WTA Finals. A persistent elbow injury paved the way for Kontaveit to snatch the last berth for Guadalajara. Still, Jabeur should be pleased with her season in general. And there is no better place to kick-off her upcoming campaign than on Arab soil.
It is not just Jabeur who is a national treasure back home. But Bencic arrives in Abu Dhabi after receving the Swiss Sportswoman of the Year honor. That distinction is fully merited considering her exploits at the Tokyo Olympics where she collected two medals (a gold in singles, and silver in doubles). She was also instrumental in steering her country to the final of the Billie Jean King Cup, where they lost to a dominant Russia team.
Jabeur and Bencic have played once on the WTA tour. That meeting came earlier this year at the Madrid Masters, where the Swiss won after her Tunisian opponent was forced to retire while trailing by a set. However, I expect a very different outcome here. Jabeur has taken nearly two months off and should be well rested. And her brew of well-disguised dropshots and power-packed forehand is not a cocktail Bencic envisaged at the start of the week
Prediction: Jabeur in 3
Dan Evans vs Andy Murray
Head-to-head: first meeting
Andy Murray’s second coming on the ATP tour is still crying out for a turning point. Murray spoke candidly to the press in Abu Dhabi, citing the need to improve significantly in 2022. It will be a make or break year for him certainly for his short term future on court. He has partly shuffled his set-up by hiring the services of German coach Jan De Witt on a trial basis, replacing Jamie Delgado.
Murray’s opponent Dan Evans is reportedly set to hire a second coach for the upcoming season. Evans produced a career-best season at tour-level in 2021, but was quickly upstaged by compatriot Cameron Norrie during the second half of the campaign. Now that he has been usurped as British No. 1, Evans’ primary objective for 2022 will be cracking the Top 20 for the first time.
Murray enjoys playing here and has a fine record in the Middle East down the years. But since his return from hip resurfacing surgery, he has not had free hits. Nonetheless, this seems like a good time to play Evans who is in Abu Dhabi on such short notice.
Prediction: Murray in 3
Main Photo from Getty.