x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Abu Dhabi tennis event set to help sport 'take off'

Venue good enough to host ATP Tour event, but will remain as an exhibition for now.

ABU DHABI // The fourth edition of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship has been the "best ever", said the managing director of organisers IMG, citing the strongest field in the history of the tournament and a "phenomenal" jump in Emirati youth participation in activities leading to the main event.

Zayed Sports City has the facilities to stage an official ATP tournament, Greg Sproule said yesterday, but the event is likely to remain an exhibition going forward because of dual mandates from Flash Entertainment, the government's owners of the event.

"The two critical elements from Flash were legacy and grassroots," said Sproule, 46, who heads IMG's activities in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. "When the owners give a mandate, it's a long-term perspective to fulfil that. Grassroots programmes take a long time."

He suggested a breakthrough was made in the Mubdadala Community Cup ahead of this tournament, with an outreach to 40 schools. Most of them were in Abu Dhabi, including 20 schools for Emiratis, half of them for girls.

"Tennis is growing and flourishing here because of the championship and what Mubadala is doing in the community," Sproule said. "It is starting to take off."

Another improvement during this tournament, he said, were question-and-answer sessions between children and the tennis pros in the Tennis Village outside the stadium.

The children, sitting within a few feet of the players, peppered them with questions like, "How can I be like you?" and "Do you like chocolate?"

The field included five of the world's top six players. Novak Djokovic played the tournament for the first time and is the current world No 1, and if he remains in that position deep into 2012 organisers may reconsider seeding Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer into the semi-finals, which was the case in the first four tournaments.

"This is a special event, and that fact allows us to tailor-make" the field, Sproule said. "The most attractive element is getting the best players to come here.

"That's what Flash says is important to Mubadala, and we want to attract the best players. How we look at next year, in terms of the draw, we will look at in a few months time."

He noted that "Flash has asked us to keep an open mind" about attempting to take the event into the ATP realm, but as long as the stress is on community interaction, the tournament is likely to remain very much as it is now.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae