Stan Wawrinka hopes the Qatar Open ends his worrying title drought although the fanfare surrounding the newly-created ATP Cup more than 10,000km away in Australia means his efforts this week may struggle to register barely a blip on the global tennis radar.
The 34-year-old Wawrinka, a three-time major winner, is top seed in Doha which boasts a respectable $1.4 million prize fund.
However, former Qatar champions Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are draw cards at the ATP Cup, currently underway in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, as are 14 other members of the world’s top 20.
Wawrinka is ranked 16 but missed out on the razzmatazz ‘Down Under’ after 38-year-old Swiss teammate Roger Federer opted for a longer rest over the winter.
In an indication of how badly-holed the Qatar tournament has been by the ATP Cup, Russia’s Andrey Rublev, the world 23, takes the second seeding.
“We have been talking with the ATP Tour for the last year and a half to find a solution,” Qatar Open tournament director Karim Alami told The Peninsula as he reflected on the awkward timing of an event which has been a key warm-up for the Australian Open since Boris Becker won the inaugural title in 1993.
“We are trying to find another date — maybe sometime in February before the event in Dubai so it could be part of the Middle East swing.”
Wawrinka has not won a title since pocketing the 16th of his career on the Geneva clay in 2017.
His last outdoor hard court trophy was in 2016 when he captured his third and most recent Grand Slam at the US Open.
Since then, the popular Swiss has been pushed to the brink of retirement by two bouts of surgery on his left knee.
A lengthy absence from the tour meant his world ranking, which once peaked at three in 2014, sank to 263 four years later.
Wawrinka, runner-up to Andy Murray in Doha in 2008 and a quarter-finalist 12 months ago, will face French veteran Jeremy Chardy or a qualifier in his opening match in the Qatari capital.
Rublev, beaten by France’s Gael Monfils in 2019 final, will face either Tunisian wild card Malek Jaziri or Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan.
France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2012 champion, faces the winner of the tie between Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia and Australia’s Jordan Thompson.
Canada’s Milos Raonic seeded fourth, begins against either Tennys Sandgren of the United States or a qualifier.