Now in its 11th year, the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, held this week, has been credited with helping to produce female Emirati players, according the tournament consultant, Hany el Khafief. During the evolution of the event, which this year headlines with the former world No 7 Nicole Vaidisova, the UAE has developed a team that compete at Arab championship level. "Before this tournament there were no young Emirati female players," said el Khafief.
"Having some of the world's top players in the UAE every year provides an amazing opportunity to introduce tennis to people that may not think of playing otherwise." Serbia's world No 8 Jelena Jankovic, the French player Marion Bartoli and Russia's Maria Kirilenko are all previous winners of the women's US$75,000 (Dh275,000) ITF tournament, which el Khafief said is often used as a warm-up before the main season gets under way.
"It is a popular tournament and has become a major attraction for players to come and compete in the warm weather around this time of year when Europe is cold," he said. "It's the last tournament in the season before the winter break and we have had players come here as a warm-up for the Australian Open." The six-foot tall Vaidisova is ranked No 186 in the world. She was just 17 when she broke into the top 10, reaching her career-high ranking of seven in May 2007. El Khafief said the persistent rain over the last few days had delayed qualifying matches, which, along with the main draw are being held at the Al Habtoor Grand Hotel, but he was hopeful of brighter weather towards the end of the week. "We have cancelled some matches, but the rain came last year at this time too, I remember, and we managed to get the tournament wrapped up in time," he said.
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