DUBAI, February 25 – The cull of leading players at the Dubai Open continued in spectacular fashion as Australian Open finalist Andy Murray, Nikolay Davydenko, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all fell in the second round on Wednesday.With Roger Federer having announced his withdrawal on Sunday, and Gilles Simon being beaten in the first round, it means that only three of the eight seeds have made it through to the quarter-finals of the two million dollar ATP event.
Even for a trio to survive it required Novak Djokovic, the new favourite in Australian Open champion Federer’s absence, to recover from a set and 2-3 down against his Serbian compatriot, Viktor Troicki, eventually winning 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Djokovic attributed his difficulties to the speed of the ball through the air, and his recovery partly to the lowering sun and spreading shade which he reckoned made ball control less difficult.
Davydenko, the ATP World Tour champion, had a damaged wrist, causing his retirement after losing the first set 6-3 to Michael Berrer, Tsonga has been unwell, and Murray suggested that trying new tactical combinations had contributed to his exit.
The world number three from Britain was beaten by yet another Serbian, Janko Tipsarevic, whose thrillingly unpredictable 7-6 (7/3), 4-6, 6-4, success followed a dramatic see-saw path and had a great finish.
Tipsarevic, who had also been sick when he arrived in the Gulf, won the first set on a Hawkeye decision after the umpire had over-ruled a line judge’s call and had been proved wrong by the computer.
Murray then struggled laboriously back to a set all, only to concede the hard-won initiative immediately, playing a bad service game and going 0-3 down in the final set.
Tipsarevic was saved five break points to hold on to that advantage even though he got a time violation warning for taking too long to serve. But he could not close the match out at 5-3, and the match had further twists and turns.
Both men made amazing retrieves as the rallies fluctuated constantly between attack and counter-attack, and the match changed direction twice after Murray saved a match point at 5-4, 40-30.
He went on to break back, but still could not reach 5-5 on his serve, Tipsarevic snatching the match with a brilliant change-of-direction backhand down the line which opened up the court for a successful net attack.
"I don’t want to sound like a hero, but I did think of not playing the tournament," said Tipsarevic.
"But today I was feeling good.
"A lot of times I lose because I don’t use the chances I have. It’s like not interesting enough to finish the score 6-3! Luckily at 5-4 he didn’t make too many first serves."
"It’s not the end of the world," said Murray, quelling a suggestion that he might be frustrated at the loss and suggesting he had been trying more serve and volleys and net attacks than usual.
"If it had been a Slam, my tactics and game style would have been a bit different."
Tsonga, by contrast, may have had doubts about playing whilst feeling sick, though withdrawing after being given a wild card by the tournament would not have been an easy decision.
The fifth-seeded Frenchman lost 7-5, 6-3 to Ivan Ljubicic, the former world number three, who was in assertive mood with a big serve which was once the most successful on the tour. Ljubicic was also typically generous with his comments.
"It was definitely the best I have played for a while," the world number 26 from Croatia said.
"Sometimes when you are serving you feel half a metre taller and I was like that today. But Jo was not feeling at his best."