After a week of scintillating tennis in Doha, where even the great Roger Federer made his much-awaited return, the ATP tour travels to Dubai this week for what will be the third ATP 500 event of the year. Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev headline the surprisingly packed field at the tournament in the Arab city.
Thiem, like many others, will be playing his second event in as many weeks. The Austrian is not fully fit right now, having been troubled by his right foot since last year, but he is keen to get as much match practice as possible ahead of the grueling claycourt season.
The top seed is joined by Andrey Rublev, who has lately made the ATP 500 category of tournaments his personal property. The World No. 8 is unbeaten in his last four ATP 500 events, winning titles in Hamburg, St. Petersburg, Vienna and Rotterdam.
But Rublev lost in the semifinals of the Qatar Open to Roberto Bautista Agut, so he will be keen to re-establish his winning run.
Thiem and Rublev will be joined by the likes of Roberto Bautista Agut, Denis Shapovalov and Jannik Sinner in Dubai. Here's a look at how the men's singles draw likely to unfold:
Top half: Dominic Thiem could be challenged by the Next Gen if he's still not 100%
Top seeded players:  Dominic Thiem,  Denis Shapovalov,  David Goffin,  Karen Khachanov
Expected semifinal: Dominic Thiem vs Denis Shapovalov
Dark horse: Borna Coric
In normal circumstances, Dominic Thiem would have been expected to march past the opponents in his way without much trouble. But Thiem has failed to perform consistently so far in 2021, and is yet to reach a semifinal since the ATP Finals last year.
The Austrian has been handed no favors as far as his draw is concerned. After a first-round bye, Thiem will face a qualifier in before a likely battle against 14th-seeded Filip Krajinovic. It is pertinent to note that Krajinovic had beaten Thiem for the loss of just three games at the 2020 Cincinnati Masters.
The going gets tougher for the World No. 4 after that, as he could play either David Goffin or Borna Coric in the quarterfinals. If Thiem succeeds in making the last four at Dubai, he could face Denis Shapovalov or Karen Khachanov for a place in the final.
Both of his projected semifinal opponents have made ample improvements to their games this year, and the 27-year-old will have to be at his very best to stop the Next Gen onslaught in Dubai.
Shapovalov's partnership with former top 10 player Mikhail Youzhny seems to have worked wonders for the youngster, as he is now playing with far better focus. Moreover, the Canadian has a big first serve which could be particularly lethal if the court conditions in Dubai are fast.
Shapovalov could face 13th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz in the Round-of-16, provided the Pole wins his opening round match against Richard Gasquet or Marco Cecchinato.
On the other side of this quarter, the in-form Karen Khachanov will open his Dubai campaign against either Singapore Open winner Alexei Popyrin or wildcard Dennis Novak. The eighth seed then might have to get the better of the super-speedy Alex de Minaur for a place in the quarterfinals.
Semifinal prediction:  Borna Coric vs  Denis Shapovalov
Bottom half: Will Andrey Rublev's winning run at ATP 500 events continue?
Top seeded players:  Andrey Rublev,  Roberto Bautista Agut,  Pablo Carreno Busta,  Stan Wawrinka
Expected semifinal: Andrey Rublev vs Roberto Bautista Agut
Dark horse: Jannik Sinner
Second seed Andrey Rublev is one of the favorites to win the title in Dubai, given his record in ATP tournaments recently. Rublev trained every single day during the tour suspension last year, and that has clearly paid off as the Russian has looked practically unbeatable at 500-level events recently.
That said, Rublev would have been disappointed at having lost so meekly to Bautista Agut last week. The World No. 8, who was going for a double in Doha after having won the title last year too, will be looking to make amends in Dubai when he takes on either Jordan Thompson or a qualifier in his opener.
Rublev could then face either Taylor Fritz or Nikoloz Basilashvili, the latter of whom ended Roger Federer's comeback at the Qatar Open.
On the other side of the quarter, World No. 16 Pablo Carreno Busta returns to action for the first time since retiring against Grigor Dimitrov in the third round of the Australian Open. Carreno Busta could face either Vasek Pospisil or Marton Fucsovics in his first match, before taking on one of 11th-seeded Dusan Lajovic or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Round-of-16.
One of the main attractions of the tournament happens to be Jannik Sinner, who finds himself in fourth seed Roberto Bautista Agut's quarter. While Sinner lost to World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev in the Marseille quarters, he has been in good form in 2021.
Having received a first-round bye, the 16th seed could face either Yoshihito Nishioka or Alexander Bublik in his first match in Dubai. In the quarterfinals, the young Italian is most likely to face Roberto Bautista Agut.
It is to be noted here that seventh seed Stan Wawrinka has withdrawn from the event due to an injury, so his place in the draw will be taken by a lucky loser.
Semifinal prediction:  Jannik Sinner vs  Pablo Carreno Busta
Denis Shapovalov vs Jannik Sinner