x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Tennis fans turn out in their droves in Dubai

Last week, the women's championship was struggling to get a fraction of this number at the turnstiles for the opening rounds.

DUBAI // The Serbians came first, in bright red T-shirts and carrying their flags. The Cypriots, Indians and Russians followed, filling the vacant seats that became increasingly rare with every serve and passing shot.

By the time the Swiss contingent arrived, centre court was packed. It seemed a global village, with the young and the old jostling for space; men and women were out in equal numbers, all dressed in their national colours.

They cheered on their favourites, but almost all were waiting for the Swiss maestro. The anticipation was palpable and the fans rose in unison to welcome Roger Federer, who had been missing from the tournament for the past two years.

A roar erupted as he walked out, waving his hand and adjusting his bandanna. With every seat taken, hundreds who arrived late were left standing.

"Very busy," said Murad Qassemov from Uzbekistan. "And all this for just one man."

Last week, the women's championship was struggling to get a fraction of this number at the turnstiles for the opening rounds. "This is the real tennis," said a cheeky German fan.

Of course, his comments were not just idle male chauvinism. The women's tournaments had most of the top-ranked players, but was lacking in star quotient. There was no Kim Clijsters, and Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams had withdrawn; Serena Williams is yet to return from her foot injury.

The men's tournament is also missing big names. There is no Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray pulled out last week. But Djokovic is here and, of course, Federer is back. These two are enough to keep the box office buzzing anywhere in the world.

"I am here to enjoy and have fun," said David Kalunde from Uganda. "Of course, I am also here to watch the top guys, especially Federer and Djokovic.

"I have tickets for the final too and I hope both of them make it. It would be perfect … to see them playing against each other, two of the world's best players."