Wedged between the Australian Open and prestigious hard-court events in Indian Wells and Miami, the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is a gateway to spring.
The "Grand Slam of the Middle East", Dubai is categorized as an ATP 500 Series event for the men and a WTA Premier event for the women. While it might not garner the same amount of attention as other tournaments, it's far from an inconsequential stop on the calendar.
Dubai is where players can build (or maintain) momentum before the season really gets busy.
Beginning play a week before the men, the women's draw features six of the current Top 10. Angelique Kerber headlines the action, and she'll try to break out of her cold streak.
In the 25th edition of the men's tournament, world No. 1 Andy Murray is back after a shocking loss at the Australian Open. Contending with him will be defending champion Stan Wawrinka and seven-time champion Roger Federer, who comes to Dubai riding high after his Melbourne triumph.
The following slides will highlight what's at stake for these players and a few others with the start of the event just days away.
Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska Hope to Channel Past Dubai Success
It's easy to lump Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska together. Despite spending a lot of their careers ranked inside the Top 10, neither woman has captured an elusive first Grand Slam title.
But they also have other similarities.
Both head to Dubai following disappointing exits at the Australian Open. Wozniacki fell in the third round in Melbourne, while Radwanska bowed out a round earlier. In a wide-open draw, they each missed golden opportunities to advance further.
Wozniacki also shares something else with Radwanska—winning Dubai in the past.
The 2011 champion, Wozniacki has performed well in her six appearances at the event, only once failing to reach the semifinals.
Radwanska won her sole Dubai title in 2012. Ranked No. 6, a second championship could vault her back into the Top 5.
Karolina Pliskova Tries to Maintain Hot Start to 2017
Karolina Pliskova emerged as a serious contender last summer, winning the Western & Southern Open and reaching the U.S. Open final. That level of play wasn't a mirage.
The 24-year-old carried that success into 2017, beginning her season with a title in Brisbane, a quarterfinal berth at the Australian Open and picking up a pair of Fed Cup wins for the Czech Republic against Spain.
The second-highest ranked player in this event after Kerber, No. 3 Pliskova should be considered the favorite to go all the way. Her game is well-suited for hard courts, and no player in the draw is in better form at the moment than the Czech.
Angelique Kerber's Slump
Overtaken by Serena Williams as No. 1, Angelique Kerber can reclaim the top spot by reaching the Dubai final.
A title would certainly help her cause right now. Slumping, Kerber is off to a slow start this season, sitting at just 4-4 following her loss in the Australian Open fourth round and an opening-match defeat in Doha.
Dubai presents a great chance for her to get back on track.
"I will do my best in the next few weeks, few months," Kerber said, per WTATennis.com. "If you play good tennis, then you have results. This is actually for me the most important thing, to win matches again, getting the confidence back. Then we will see what happens in the next few months."
A quality result here can help trigger her game with important spring tournaments on the horizon.
Stan Wawrinka Aims for Title Defense
A successful result is crucial for Dubai champion Stan Wawrinka to hold off Milos Raonic for the No. 3 ranking.
Currently 765 points ahead of the Canadian, Wawrinka toppled Marcos Baghdatis in last year's final for his first title at this event.
The fast courts should again help the aggressive Wawrinka's game. In the wake of his five-set loss to Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals, he'll look to continue his strong start to the season by keeping the crown.
Andy Murray Looks for First Dubai Victory
World No. 1 Andy Murray fell short of completing his mission to win a first title Down Under. Bounced in the fourth round by Mischa Zverev, the Scot has had ample time to rest and regroup after that shocking defeat.
The 29-year-old will try to make amends in Dubai. Entered into both singles and doubles—partnering Nenad Zimonjic—Murray last played this tournament in 2015, losing to Borna Coric in the quarterfinals.
The 2012 finalist, Murray can further pad his rankings lead over Novak Djokovic. A successful week is what he needs as bigger events in Indian Wells and Miami loom.
Roger Federer Goes for Eighth Title
Fresh off winning his 18th Grand Slam at the Australian Open, Roger Federer is back in action at a tournament he's dominated throughout his career
A resident of Dubai, Federer is a nine-time finalist and seven-time champion (2003-05, 2007, 2012, 2014-15) at the event. Winning an eighth title would further propel his rankings climb.
Beginning the year at No. 17, Federer soared all the way to No. 10 after the Australian Open. Now ranked ninth, he could gain a few more spots by lifting the trophy.
Extremely comfortable playing in Dubai's conditions, Federer is the co-favorite alongside Andy Murray, whom he defeated in the 2012 final.
With the momentum he accrued in Melbourne, Federer will be ready should the world No. 1 cross his path again.