Doha this year has fielded one of the best lists of players at a 250 event in a long time. The tournament includes five top 10 players, getting ready for the Australian Open. It's going to be a fun tournament, and I am predicting a pair of big upsets. I'm predicting that neither Rafael Nadal nor Andy Murray will reach the semifinals.
I know I'm not the only person predicting Murray will struggle in his return from back surgery. His performance was not convincing in Abu Dhabi, and Fernando Verdasco, who is the likely quarterfinal opponent, is a serious threat to Murray. In the Wimbledon quarterfinals, Verdasco won the first two sets against Murray, who played the best tennis of his career in that fortnight. Murray struggled handling playing against a left-handed player. Since that match, Murray has only played one other lefty. Add on the back problems, and Verdasco has a good shot at pulling off the first big upset of 2014.
The Nadal prediction is probably the more surprising prediction of the two. No, I am not saying Rosol will upset Nadal again. I think Ernests Gulbis is finally going to get over the hump and beat Nadal. He has won a set against Nadal five times, and is getting closer to pulling off the upset each time.
On top of that, it's the perfect conditions for Latvian claim his first win over the world No. 1 in seven attempts. More than it just being a hard court tournament, it's a 250 tune-up for a slam, which historically is the kind of tournament where Nadal doesn't make his best effort. In his career, Nadal is 39-17 (69.6%) with just one title in 250 events that are within two weeks of a grand slam. At masters 1000 events, Nadal's winning percentage is 84.1%. 1000 events are also best-of-three sets and have a significantly tougher field of opponents.
The conditions are perfect for upsets. Verdasco and Gulbis just have to be ready to take advantage.