x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Why the best tennis players in the world keep coming to Dubai

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship has cemented its status as one of the most popular events on the ATP Tour.

The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship is a popular destination for the top players in the men's game.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship is a popular destination for the top players in the men's game.

World-class facilities, fantastic hospitality and a vibrant city are all reasons why the top players in the men's game keep coming back to the UAE every year, writes Ahmed Rizvi

Earlier this week, Novak Djokovic was asked about the appeal of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships from a player's perspective.

"You have seven or eight of the top 10 players taking part in this event," said the world No 1 and three-time defending champion. "That says enough."

The hospitality and glamour of Dubai do not hurt, either. Players, who stay in the glitzy Burj Al Arab hotel, have voted this the best ATP event in the 500 points category for eight of the last nine years.

"The place is pretty unique," Andy Murray said. "Not often do you get to stay at hotels like this. Decorations [inside the hotel room] are maybe not as I would design my apartment, but it's an unbelievable hotel.

"I went to the Dubai Mall the other day ... it's incredible, it's absolutely massive. I have never seen a mall like that, or anything like it. The Burj Khalifa is also a very impressive building.

"There is nothing you can really complain about."

For Roger Federer, the sights of the city are not the main attraction. He has an apartment in Dubai, close to the Burj Al Arab. For him, it is the atmosphere of the Aviation Club and the untiring efforts of the organisers that keep bringing him back.

"You feel that as a player, so maybe that's something the players like," Federer said. "Then, obviously, the way it is run, the organisation. You feel very welcome, very much taken care of. They go the extra mile for us, which is obviously not necessarily needed all the time, but why not if you can do it.

"So we appreciate that. Then obviously, the city, the beach, the landscape … the icons we know all around. It's just nice to be in a place that is so safe and so nice at the same time."

The tournament has been showcasing the world's best players since its modest start in 1993, but it has been in a different realm since 2003, when Federer exploded on the scene.

That year, the tournament was voted as the best "500 series" ATP event for the first time.

Over the past few years, the field has looked like the second week of a grand slam.

The tournament winners' list looks a bit similar as well. Since 2003, Federer (four), Djokovic (three) and Rafael Nadal (one) have shared eight of the nine titles between them - Andy Roddick broke their monopoly in 2008. In grand slams, the trio have won 31 of the past 35 men's titles.

"For the 500 tournaments, it [Dubai] is always the toughest during the year," Murray said.

"You always get a great field. So it's always very tough. You need to be on your game from the first match. Normally, when you come up against the top 10 players [in other tournaments], you have three or four matches under your belt. They can come a little bit sooner in this tournament. I remember a few years ago [2008] I played Federer in the first round here."

According to Salah Tahlak, the tournament director, the prize money and schedule also plays a big part in the success of the tournament.

Most of the top players choose Dubai to return to action following their break after the Australian Open. It is ideal preparation for the two Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami.

"When we started, it was a million dollars," Tahlak said. "The top seed back in our first tournament, Karel Novacek, I think was No 23 in the world at the time and he won the tournament.

"Today, our cut-off line is world No 46, the prize money is US$2 million (Dh7.34m) and the tournament is worth 500 points. Back then, I think it was 200 points. So there have been a lot of changes and every year we keep adding something.

"The prize money is good. The hotels are very close to the courts, practice courts are available and the hospitality here is top class. We look into every detail and take care of them.

"We respect the privacy of the players and there are not many people harassing the players, people like the paparazzi and all that.

"So I think the players feel comfortable here, at home. The food is good; Dubai has a lot of great restaurants, serving different cuisines to suit every mood and taste. So they all like it."