Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 5 August 2020

UAE great sporting moments - No 5: Roger Federer and Andre Agassi play tennis on Burj Al Arab helipad

Years later, the Swiss superstar is still asked about the 'match' at 210-metres

An aerial shot of the iconic match between Roger Federer and Andre Agassi in February 2005. Getty Images
An aerial shot of the iconic match between Roger Federer and Andre Agassi in February 2005. Getty Images
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Every day over three weeks, The National looks back at the 21 greatest moments in UAE sports history.

Thankfully, neither Roger Federer nor Andre Agassi have a fear of heights. If they did, we may have been denied one of the most memorable marketing stunts in sports.

It was February 2005, back when the Dubai Tennis Championships was still finding its feet on the ATP Tour. The tournament had held ATP 500 status since 2001, and while a smattering of top players were making their way over to the UAE, it did not boast the depth of star quality that soon became custom.

The turning point came at the 13th edition of the championships. World No 1 Federer, who had won the previous two titles and was returning to complete the hat-trick, led the all-star cast, which included former world No 1 Marat Safin, top-ranked Briton Tim Henman, and American great Andre Agassi. It meant Dubai would welcome four of the world's top 10 players.

Not content with simply relying on billboards and radio adverts to draw attention to the tournament, organisers created a moment that would generate global interest and has since remained one of the most enduring images in UAE sport's history.

After scaling 210 metres (689ft), Federer and Agassi played out a friendly tennis match on the Burj Al Arab's helipad, which had been converted into an artificial grass court.

The images of the match, set among the Dubai skyline, were spectacular and the impact was long-lasting - both on the tournament and its greatest ever champion.

“It was amazing,” Federer said more than a decade on. “I didn’t know at the time, when we were doing this, that it was going to have such an impact.

"I had an idea of how we could make it better; we had a helicopter, which was going to film it all around, really show on what kind of a platform we were playing, instead of just having a picture taken of the hotel. It can really tell how high up we are and I think that also made a difference.

“Ever since, everybody talks about it and I still hear stories about people saying, ‘OK, can we play tennis there?’. They are told: ‘we don’t have [a court]’, but they go: ‘No, no, I know you do’.”

Federer would soon after win his third successive Dubai title, beating his future coach, Ivan Ljubicic, in the final. Those trophies would be the first three of his record-setting eight at the Aviation Club. A happy hunting ground, Federer would also win his 100th ATP title in Dubai.

Since 2005, the Dubai Tennis Championships have consistently welcomed a litany of stars to their courts, with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray all regular visitors over the years.

And while there have been classic matches aplenty, none stick in the mind more than Federer v Agassi on the Burj Al Arab helipad.

Updated: July 16, 2020 09:46 AM

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