Top-seeded David Ferrer started the new season with a dropped first set on Tuesday to Dustin Brown, a qualifier outside the world’s top 150, and a damaged court which opened like a crater on the moon.
Repairs appeared to involve tape and glue on a tear about 1.5m behind the baseline where Ferrer’s heel had ripped into the surface.
There was also an anxious-looking conference and a ball-boys’ impromptu Gangnam Style dance session on the playing area during the delay.
It was eventually two-and-a-half hours before the world No. 5 from Spain survived his first round in the Qatar Open by 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 against Brown, who is a tall, Jamaica-based German nicknamed “Dreddy,” with impressive locks flying down to the small of his back.
Brown was unusual for his aggressive serving, eager forward movement and willingness to volley, and other circumstances must have seemed to Ferrer bizarrely familiar.
Two years ago he and Andy Roddick were forced off their court at the US Open by a crack near the baseline which required them to change courts, and last year at New York a tornado forced Ferrer and Novak Djokovic to interrupt their semi-final by an entire day.
Asked if something were following him around, Ferrer said: “Something, yes — it’s bad luck. I don’t even know why.”
This time Ferrer had a more fortunate resumption. Though a set down he broke Brown’s serve at once and consolidated that advantage right through the second set.
He then making another crucial break at the start of the third set, by which time the favorite was accelerating towards safety.
The seedings say that Ferrer should play a final on Saturday with Richard Gasquet, the world No. 10 from France, whose fluency appeared only intermittently during a 6-3, 6-4 win over Jan Hernych, a 33-year-old Czech qualifier.
Hernych struck his ground strokes more often inside the baseline than Gasquet - often a sign of potential dominance — but missed with three of his four break-point chances.
Gasquet’s confidence improved markedly after breaking serve at the start of the second set and never looked like being pegged back, dropping only five points in his next five service games.
He could have a semi-final with his compatriot Gael Monfils, last year’s runner-up, whose first match in two-and-a-half months was a comfortable re-introduction, a 6-0, 6-3 win over the local wild-card player, Mousa Shanan Zayed.
Monfils is next to face Philipp Kohlschreiber, the third-seeded German.