Some 120,000 people are expected to turn out to see the world’s best tennis players at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. The action starts on Monday February 18 with the women’s tournament, running through to the men’s finals on Saturday March 2: Garhoud will be abuzz as world number ones take to the courts in two weeks of fiercely competitive action. Tournament director Salah Tahlak is on hand to give us the lowdown.
This year’s line-up currently includes seven of the top 20 male players, and 17 of the top 20 female players in the world. In the men’s championships, world number one Novak Djokovic is no doubt one of the hottest tickets this year: the crowds will be hoping for a showdown between the Serbian and Swiss world number two Roger Federer in the finals. In the women’s competition, world number one Victoria Azarenka and number two Serena Williams will be hot contenders for the title. ‘Maria Sharapova wasn’t planning to play because she wasn’t well, but now it’s 50-50 – she might be looking for a wild-card entry,’ explains Tahlak. ‘That would give us the full top ten in the women’s division’.
‘After the first grand slam in Australia, Djokovic is really looking set to win again,’ says Tahlak. ‘Last year he made it to the semi-final, but I think he’ll be coming back this time with full power and strength to grab the title back.’ Tahlak is also hoping that some of the lower-ranking competitors will use Dubai as an opportunity to power up and establish themselves further up the list. ‘In the men’s competition, I would love Argentine player Juan Martin del Potro to perform well – he could be a new Djokovic or Federer, and he has a great personality as well. He’s young, he’s from South America, and I think he will get a lot more people interested in the game,’ he explains. ‘I even told Maradona I wanted him to come and see Del Potro play. We asked him to do a coin toss last year – I wouldn’t say that will happen this year, but it would be good for him to come and support his countryman.’ As for the ladies, Tahlak will be following the two players with whom the tournament has close links. ‘Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki are our ambassadors, so we’d like to see them come back [up the rankings] and compete for the cup.’
Though prime slots have sold out, some tickets have been held back to sell on the day. ‘The tickets are so cheap compared to what you’d pay to see the same talent at Wimbledon and the other grand slams. ‘We will keep some tickets for the day, because we know it’s sometimes difficult for people to buy them, and people come from overseas, Abu Dhabi… But there will only be a limited number available each day.’ Though he makes no promises that tickets for the finals will be available, there could be ways to win tickets during the event.
‘We have the tradition where people need to guess the number of tennis balls inside a car, and we have a competition that involves winning tickets to Wimbledon later in the year. But the whole area is different this year – we have Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, and Century Village has been revamped. Every single sponsor will have their own promotions taking place every day.’
Tickets from Dhs50 on the first three days of each tournament. February 18 to March 2. Dubai Tennis Stadium, Garhoud, www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com (04 417 2415).
Where to play racquet sports
Al Nasr Leisureland
Affordable rates for tennis-court hire at this Old Dubai spot.
Dhs60 per hour. Oud Metha (04 337 1234).
This new facility can host a variety of different sports, including badminton.
Rental from Dhs90 (members) and Dhs120 (non-members) per hour. Fitness First, Meadows Village, www.fitnessfirst-me.com (04 437 0545).
Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort
Hire squash courts (and equipment if you’re short) at this small beachfront hotel.
Court hire Dhs150 per hour, rackets Dhs30, balls free. The Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence (04 399 5533).