Dubai: A top official is confident of a rush of top-ranked women players for the annual 19th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge (AHTC) scheduled to take place at the Habtoor Grand Resort Autograph Collection from December 10-17.
Held for the first time in 1998 as an ITF $25,000 (Dh91,815) event, the annual tournament has grown through the years with some of the top players like Marion Bartoli and Jelena Jankovic breaking through onto the world stage after this competition.
In 1999, the tournament was elevated to a $75,000 ITF Women’s Circuit event, and from this year it will be held with a prize purse of $100,000 along with full hospitality for players and accompanying members.
“This tournament is very well known and some of the top players are always interested in playing here and preparing for the next season each year. However, this year we have moved the dates to the final week of the ITF calendar and this has been done after consulting many of the top players who have been here before so that we have a tournament that would suit them the best,” Hani Al Khafief, Chief of Officials and Technical Operations, told Gulf News.
“The thinking behind having the competition in the final week of the ITF women’s season is that it would suit them best. On the one hand they will have excellent weather to train and play, and after this break all of them can proceed to the start of the season in the Australia and New Zealand region,” he added.
Till date, former world number 42 Galina Voskoboeva of Kazakhstan is the highest ranked player who has confirmed participation for the Dubai tournament. Born in Russia, Voskoboeva chose to represent Kazakhstan and went on to achieve her highest singles ranking of No. 42 in August, 2012.
“We have been getting a very good response from players so far. Some of the players have booked their arrival a week in advance so that they can make use of the weather and facilities that we offer them here,” Al Khafief said.
“The top players have still not confirmed as they are any way assured of getting into the main draw based on their rankings. But one of the notable things is that the volume of players this year is huge, and this can only be a good thing for our event,” he added.
Former AHTC Champion Kira Nagy will continue as the tournament director while Ali Nili, who began his tennis officiating career in Dubai more than 20 years back, will be the tournament referee.
“There is a nice family touch to this tournament, and we are always encouraging residents of the UAE to come and be part of this event. Entrance is free and we hope people will make use of the lovely weather during this time of the year,” Al Khafief said.