x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Dubai Tennis Championships women's final deserved a big bravo

Not surprisingly, tickets were still available right up to the first serve at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. By the time the final started, the stadium had filled sufficiently to create a decent atmosphere, although clearly there remained many empty seats, especially in the upper tier.

Tickets for the women's final between Petra Kvitova and Sara Errani were still available up to first serve of their match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Many upper tier seats went unused.
Tickets for the women's final between Petra Kvitova and Sara Errani were still available up to first serve of their match at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Many upper tier seats went unused.

The final was finely poised at one set apiece. But the crowd was somewhat restless. There was even an abortive attempt at the dreaded Mexican wave, usually a sure sign the fans have resorted to entertaining themselves.

Then, just like that, it all changed. The arrival of Princess Haya, wife of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Ruler of Dubai, received a massive ovation from a suddenly animated crowd.

The Mexican wave finally got going, and to the delight of the crowd, Princess Haya joined in.

It has been a strange Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship. Petra Kvitova eventually beat Sara Errani in three sets in a final that, after a slow start, like the tournament itself, finally got going.

At times over the past week, the action seemed to be just short of the highest standard, and at the same time, the event lacked any major upsets. Not surprisingly, withdrawals didn't help.

Australian Open Champion Victoria Azarenka, fresh from winning in Doha, pulled out hours before her first match, the second straight year she has done so.

A day later, world No 1 Serena Williams did the same.

With the star appeal taking such a hit, tennis fans, not to mention the organisers, must have been hoping that the remaining top players would step up and fill the void. Perhaps contrary to the casual fan's perception, there were certainly still enough of them around.

Last year's champion, Agnieszka Radwanska, and former world No 1 and crowd favourite Caroline Wozniacki looked the best shouts, but both, ultimately, fell short, the latter admittedly to a higher seeded opponent.

Wozniacki, who looked to be playing herself back to form in Dubai after a poor 2012, had of course succumbed to Sunday night's tournament winner, Kvitova.

Not only was the Czech ranked and seeded higher than the Dane, she was Wimbledon champion as recently as 2011, which makes the somewhat early lukewarm reaction in the final somewhat curious.

It appears Wozniacki, regardless of her troubles on the court, remains a bigger draw than most.

Meanwhile Errani, at No 7 a place higher than Wozniacki, had beaten fellow Italian Roberta Vinci 6-3, 6-3 to reach the final, and with six career titles to her name, is no slouch either.

But neither is she a name to draw the crowds.

The final, it is fair to say, had failed to ignite fans' interest like in previous years.

A couple from Scotland here on holiday who happened to wander into the Aviation Club, were pleasantly surprised to find out the final was taking place, before purchasing seats in the grandstand.

Not surprisingly, tickets were still available right up to the first serve.

By the time the final started, the stadium had filled sufficiently to create a decent atmosphere, although clearly there remained many empty seats, especially in the upper tier.

Those who did make the effort were treated to some brutal tennis from Kvitova.

The Czech dominated the first set 6-2 and looked like she would walk away with the title.

A stunning second set from Errani saw the Italian win 6-1.

Kvitova's game had totally disintegrated.

Then came the royal intervention, and the crowd suddenly perked up. Shouts of "Petra, Petra" rang out, only to be answered by "come on Sara" from fans of the Italian. And back came Kvitova, with plenty of fist pumping, with her own 6-1 set to take the trophy.

At the end, Kvitova's smile was as much in relief as joy.

But even as she collected the trophy, the feeling in the stands was that this was merely a precursor to the men's event starting tomorrow.

Earlier in the day, the draw for the men's competition has been announced and the contrast in star attractions with the women's event was unavoidable.

World No 1 and three-time champion Novak Djokovic is here, Dubai darling and second-ranked Roger Federer is here to defend his title.

Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Janko Tipsarevic complete a fiercely competitive top six seeds.

Men's tennis seemingly captures the imagination of the Dubai crowds far more than women's. In fact, every ticket for the men's play has long sold out.

Perhaps last night's newly crowned champion, as well as her valiant opponent, deserved a bigger crowd and a little more respect.

But looking at Kvitova's beaming smile as she received the trophy under the floodlights, it is unlikely she will give it a second thought.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

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