The controversy surrounding last week's ladies' tournament in Dubai spilled over into the men's draw this week as several of the top players were noticably missing from the bracket.
Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal pulled out with a knee injury while now-perpetual runner-up Roger Federer withdrew due to continuing problems with his back. Andy Roddick, winner in Memphis just a few nights ago, protested the refusal of Shahar Peer's visa by bowing out himself, and two other top-ten players also stayed home with various injuries.
One player that was notably present however, was Israeli Andy Ram. The twenty-nine year old doubles player was granted a visa last week, though UAE officials didn't specify why Ram was allowed entry and Peer was not. After all the talk about it, I suppose it was a bit of a disappointment when the fourth-seed lost in the first round to Marat Safin and David Ferrer -- but hopefully some of the tension has been relieved.
On the single's side the absense of Rafa and Roger placed Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray as the top seeds. Ferrer even scored a #4 seed, despite struggling through recent upsets to lower-ranked players like Jeremy Chardy and Mikhail Youzhny.
Through the semifinals, there were few on-paper surprises. Djokovic and Simon made it through their sections of the draw and even Ferrer justified his former #4 ranking. Only Murray was missing from the final four because of a virus. It would be nice to see Novak make it to a title match -- he hasn't made it past the semis since the year-end championships in Shanghai, where he beat Simon -- but I have a feeling Gilles will be out for revenge here. And Ferrer, who will be taking on Frenchman Richard Gasquet, could be on his own roll.
It might not be who you'd expect in the winner's circle when the tournament ends, but this year Dubai has certainly become one of the venues we'll be talking about the most.