Whatever the sport, there’s a place for it in Dubai. International rugby rolls into town every December, the best marathon runners gather in January to compete for the biggest cash prize their sport has to offer, and golf’s stars teed off in the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this month. Now it’s the turn of the globe’s top tennis players to serve up a slice of sporting action at the Dubai World Tennis Championships.
What started as the Dubai Men’s Open back in 1993 has since evolved into one of the most prestigious fixtures on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) circuit – not just with the fans, but with the players themselves. The Aviation Club, the venue that has hosted the tournament since its inception, has been voted ‘Best Venue’ by the players on the ATP World Tour for three consecutive years. How much The Irish Village has to do with this, we don’t know…
This year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships kicks off on February 14: the women’s tournament takes place first, with the men’s event following on February 21. Aside from the absence of world number one Rafael Nadal, Dubai will welcome the likes of Australian Open finalist Andy Murray, four-time winner Roger Federer, and reigning champion Novak Djokovic. Meanwhile, the ladies’ tournament features an equally prestigious roster, including world number one Caroline Wozniacki, world number two Vera Zvonareva, Chinese hotshot Na Li, a host of other talented, Eastern Europeans with complicated names and – fingers crossed – the 2010 champion, Venus Williams. The stage is set for a smashing tennis spectacular.
Women’s event: Dhs50 (February 14-17), Dhs150 (February 18), Dhs200 (February 19), Dh250 (February 20; finals). Men’s event: Dhs50 (February 21-23). Tickets for February 24-26 are already sold out. Gates open at 9am. Tickets available at www.timeouttickets.com.
The ones to watch
We cornered Jon Guntley, director of tennis and head coach at Clark Francis Tennis, to find out his hot picks and inside tips for this year’s Championships.
Men of the moment
Jon doesn’t think there’ll be many surprises when it comes to the men’s tournament, and expects two of the top three seeds – Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic – to feature in the finals. Yet that doesn’t mean that the men’s tournament will be boring. ‘Both Murray and Djokovic are on extremely good form,’ says Jon. ‘I was very impressed with Djokovic against Federer [in the Australian Open in late January]. Djokovic is hitting so aggressively… In his previous match against Warwinka, Federer was hitting around 46 per cent of his ground stokes inside the baseline, but against Djokovic it was around 23 per cent, which shows how aggressively Djokovic was playing by not letting Federer hit the ball early. Also [Djokovic’s] serve has stepped up a notch – in the past, his serve hasn’t been his strength. Now he seems to be gunning the big serves, especially on the big points.’
If Djokovic wants to retain his Dubai crown, he’ll likely have to fend off the advances of Andy Murray, the man he beat in straight sets in the Australian Open final. However, if the two do meet again, the tenacious Scotsman shouldn’t be ruled out – Murray has beaten Djokovic three times on outdoor hard courts, which stands him in good stead in Dubai. What’s more, the young Scot seems to be growing in confidence at each tournament in which he plays, and will be looking to make amends for coming second in Australia for the second year running.
Last but by no means least is crowd favourite Roger Federer. The world number two has won in Dubai a record four times and was denied the chance to snatch a fifth in 2010 by a throat infection, which forced him to withdraw from the tournament at the last minute. Federer, always a force to be reckoned with, will be aiming to avenge his defeat at the hands of Djokovic in the semi-final of the Australian Open, and many neutrals will be hoping the two meet in Dubai.
Jon doubts there will be any major shocks in the men’s tournament, but, if forced to choose a dark horse, he’d settle for last year’s finalist Mikail Youzhny. ‘However,’ says Jon, erring on the side of caution, ‘he’s not had as good a build-up to the tournament as he did last year – he’s not been in such good form. But he’s an outsider to see in the semis or the final.’
While Jon sees the men’s tournament as a three-horse race, the women’s competition is likely to be full of surprises. ‘In the men’s, I don’t really see anyone doing any damage to [the top] three, whereas the women’s is wide open. It’s a big field full of interesting names.’
This year, Dubai welcomes back tennis poster girls Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova. ‘It’ll be quite a crowd pleaser to see those two on court,’ says Jon. Both players missed out on last year’s championships, and will be hoping to use this year’s competition as a springboard to better form.
Perhaps the biggest uncertainty of the women’s tournament is the fitness of Venus Williams. Though her name is in the draw, it’s still uncertain whether Venus will feature in Dubai because of an injury to her
psoas muscle (a hip flexer), yet her presence would make the women’s competition even more of a spectacle.
For more information on Clark Francis tennis coaching, email email@example.com or see www.clarkfrancistennis.com.
No tickets? No problem!
For those miffed at not getting tickets, all the on-court action can still be enjoyed on the large screen in The Irish Village, which will show all the matches, plus a second screen above the Dubai Duty Free stand in the Tennis Village. On weekends (Friday 18 to Sunday 20; Friday 25 to Saturday 26) there will be various entertainers roaming the Village to keep you entertained, with jugglers, fire dancers and ‘tennis Kangoos’ (we’re assuming they’ll be wearing the bouncy, spring-loaded shoes). There will also be stores serving drinks and snacks, as well as racquet-related merchandise.
Entrance to the Tennis Village is free.