Dubai: Tennis in the UAE needs to get back on track — and time is running out if the sport’s administrators do not have one final attempt at saving it. That was the judgement from the newly-appointed board of directors of Tennis Emirates following their meeting under the chairmanship of Shaikh Hasher Al Maktoum earlier this week.
To think that tennis has been struggling to survive may not exactly be the best of news for a country that boasts of two of the top international tournaments in the fortnight-long Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
But over a period of time, the reality is such.
A few years back a survey carried out by the governing body for the sport in the UAE claimed that the UAE has over 450 tennis courts, of which more than 250 are in Dubai alone. The finding further estimated that nearly 15,000 people are directly or indirectly involved with tennis, and of these around 1,000 are active players. And given the fact that there are more than 80 academies operating all over the UAE, one could certainly hope for a bright and rosy picture.
Unfortunately, this is not the case as the national team has to struggle finding courts to even practice while preparing for important competitions such as Davis Cup.
To their credit, since the past few years, Tennis Emirates has been advocating a change in the way the sport is played here — that from bring a recreational activity to a more professional level. And while academies have thrived, not much has changed for UAE national teams.
“There is no doubt we need at least a few courts for the sake of the national teams. We need a place to train our youngsters. The reality at the moment is that we have none, neither the courts nor the centre,” Ahmad Abdul Malik, Vice President, Tennis Emirates told Gulf News after the first meeting of the board of directors.
“How can the national teams deliver without even a court? Everyone says there are a lot of courts in the UAE, and they are not wrong. But how many of these courts give access to the national team players?” he queried.
Now 36, Omar Bahroozian has been the mainstay of the UAE Davis Cup squad along with his contemporary Mahmoud Nader Al Baloushi. The good thing is that there are a lot of younger players coming through, such as Fares Al Janahi and Abdul Rahman Al Janahi.
And it is in this context that the new board has several challenges before it. One for sure, is the lack of training facilities — let alone a centre cum office for the governing body. “Hotels have courts, but those are for their guests. Why blame the hotels when our players don’t even have access to our clubs? That really doesn’t make sense,” Abdul Malik observed.
“No budget, no courts, no nothing. To be honest, this is perhaps the last chance for us to promote tennis and do something for our sport. If nothing happens by then, then I am sorry tennis may end up at an even lower level,” he shrugged.
Nasser Al Marzouqi, who was handed over the financial affairs at Tennis Emirates, is of the same mind. “The need of the hour is a centre, a place we can call our own, a place where our players can meet, train and get ready for further challenges,” Al Marzouqi said.
“We also ought to think outside the box. We need financial support coming in from other sources besides government backing. We have to look beyond everything and ensure our youngsters are at least given the opportunity to perform,” he added.
Mohammad Abdullah Al Nuaimi, a former national team member with the UAE Davis Cup, who is among the younger generation in the new board of directors, sees the need to revamp the entire system. “The time for talk is over. It is now time to do. We have to perform now. Our youngsters need us to preserve tennis and see it grow for them. We have to convince their parents that this sport is worth following as a career,” Al Nuaimi said.
And Shaikh Hasher couldn’t have agreed more to this. “We are going through a building-up process in UAE tennis at the moment,” Shaikh Hasher said.
“We have a young squad and they will need time to reach the level that we seek. We cannot set any time frame for their development and growth. We will be observing them and seeing when these youngsters will be ready,” he added.