ABU DHABI // Seven children will walk out side-by-side with some of the world's top tennis players when they take to centre court at the Mubadala Tennis World Championships today.
Two of the youngsters are taking part after winning a competition run by The National.
They will also carry the kit bag for the world's No. 1, Novak Djokovic, during the second and third days of the three-day event at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
Winners of other competitions will carry bags for Andy Murray, the Olympic gold-medal winner and world No. 3, the No. 5 David Ferrer and No. 6 Tomas Berdych.
Spain's Rafael Nadal was also due to take part but has had to pull out of the tournament due to a stomach virus. He will be replaced by his countryman, Nicolas Almagro, the world No. 11.
A Mubadala contest offered day passes to six Emirati children who answered tennis-related questions on a radio show each day for six days. On the seventh day of the competition last week, the winner received hospitality tickets.
"We've been adding tennis to the UAE's sports map but we have also added a twist to include Emirati kids to have a healthy lifestyle and well-being, and have one-on-one interactions with the tennis players," said Amina Taher, the head of community engagement at Mubadala.
Tennis was growing in popularity among young Emiratis, said Ms Taher, citing studies conducted before and after the last three tournaments in Abu Dhabi.
Although Nadal has a big following in the UAE, Djokovic is increasingly popular as well.
He took part in the competition last year but, said Ms Taher, "his popularity and brand has soared since then."