Qatar Open begins from today without big stars

Vastavam web: One of the season’s traditional curtain-raisers, the Qatar Open, begins tomorrow but with the late withdrawal of Novak Djokovic the tournament is shorn of its usual A-list headline acts.Djokovic, the champion in Doha for the past two years, pulled out on Saturday because of continuing problems with a niggling elbow injury.Last year the Serbian superstar beat Britain’s Andy Murray, then world number one, in a thrilling, three-set final in front of a sell-out Doha crowd which included members of Bayern Munich’s football team, in Qatar for winter training, and Paris Saint-Germain chief, Nasser al-Khelaifi.

The year before, Djokovic destroyed Rafa Nadal in the final, dropping just three games against the Spaniard in a breathtaking display to take the title, an ideal warm-up before claiming his sixth Australian Open crown a few weeks later.The Austrian is looking to rebuild on an initially promising 2017, when he reached the semi-finals of the French Open before losing in Paris to eventual champion and current world number one Nadal.

Thiem warmed up for Qatar by appearing at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in neighbouring United Arab Emirates, where he lost on Friday to eventual tournament winner Kevin Anderson.Thiem, 24, could be one of the next generation of tennis stars to capitalise on the current woes of the sport’s biggest names, even as soon as next month’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne.He has been drawn against Croatia’s Borna Coric, another player tipped to emerge over the next few years as the old guard eventually leaves the world stage.

These two could be pushed hard in Doha by veteran Tomas Berdych.The Czech star, 32, has gone close on two occasions in Qatar, being eliminated in the past two seasons in the semi- finals.The top quartet of seeds is completed by Spain’s Albert Ramos Vinolas, the world number 23.