An iconic moment is, by definition, unique. It can't be replicated. Try telling that to Novak Djokovic.
On Friday, the reigning champion of the men's Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships couldn't hide his excitement as he took up his position on the helipad of the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai, the scene in 2005 of a historic tennis match between Andre Agassi and Roger Federer. His opponent? None other than that helipad veteran Federer, who was more than happy to share his (Astro) turf with the young star.
While the plans for the 2012 photoshoot included an interview and shots of the pair squaring off on artificial grass emblazoned with a giant "20" — to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships — Djokovic had his own agenda.
"Novak's just asked for three balls," went the word around the 27th-floor lounge of the Burj Al Arab where camera crews, hotel management, photographers and ATP officials were being briefed on the day's tight schedule. The young Serb wasn't looking for a quick practice, however — he just wanted to have a go at hitting a few volleys off the side of the helipad, just as Agassi had done seven years prior.
Back in 2005, those astonishing photographs of Federer and Agassi having a match hundreds of metres above Dubai on the 7-star hotel's suspended helipad grabbed the world's attention, establishing Dubai as a city of tennis, luxury hotels and the ability to do just about anything.
This year, another shoot was set up with the hottest players of the tournament, evoking the memories of that day, but with their own character. "I was involved in the 2005 shoot with Andre and Roger which we coordinated with Jumeirah and the ATP. That was very special and received massive media coverage so we consciously did not want to try and recreate something that was unique," said Sinead Al Sibai, Vice President, Marketing, at Dubai Duty Free, the tournament owners and organisers.
She explained that the players would instead be interviewed on the helipad, while a helicoper buzzed overhead, filming the action.
"This year we brainstormed together and the idea of a ‘live from the helipad' interview to mark the 20th anniversary of the tennis was hit upon and then we all worked together to get it organised. We wanted to feature the top players and Roger and Novak were both interested in the activity. I have to say that walking up onto the helipad this time and seeing the giant 20 on the surface was every bit as exciting for me.
"Also, having the laser show on the sail of Burj Al Arab to mark the tennis anniversary is fantastic and a first for us. Our thanks to Jumeirah for partnering with us again this year."
Joining the players on that thankfully windless day were Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice Chairman Colm McLoughlin, Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications Salah Talak — also the tournament director — and Jumeirah Group's Executive Chairman Gerald Lawless.
The earlier shoot, said Lawless, was "imaginative, daring, dynamic".
"The Federer-Agassi match on the helipad of Burj Al Arab in 2005 became such an iconic image of Dubai. Having tennis stars such as Djokovic and Federer there this time is a reminder of what Dubai has achieved, of the partnership between leading Dubai-based global brands like Dubai Duty Free and Jumeirah Group, and of the pursuit of excellence in all fields."
At 10am, the players, who are guests of the hotel, loped into the lounge to be briefed on the shoot and greet McLouglin, Talak, Lawless and Al Sibai — and the ease with which they did suggested old friendships. "I'm glad you didn't wear ties," said a casually dressed Lawless to Federer, the Swiss wearing a pale blue polo shirt and jeans.
Ever the professionals, the two players chatted about — what else? — the weather, with Djokovic in particular glad to be in Dubai's warm sunshine, having spent time skiing recently. "It was cold — this is a nice change!" he remarked to Federer, who recalled that first shoot fondly — and said that going up on the helipad never loses its charm.
‘It remains special'
"I've been here many times, since [the 2005 shoot], to revisit it. Every time it remains something so special, just knowing there is nothing underneath," he told tabloid!.
"It was Andre's first time to come to Dubai — it was like me presenting Dubai and the tournament to him in a special way," added Federer. "Novak has been here before. It's the top two players — him defending champion and man of the moment. I'm reliving the moment, but it's different stories and equally nice."
Then it was down to the hotel lobby for the start of the shoot, with the stars entering from the revolving doors before receiving the hotel's traditional welcome from a six-person team bearing rose water, hand towels, incense, dates and Arabic coffee. Attracting the attention of the guests in the lobby, the players had to follow the script and head up the escalator behind the camera crew, as suddenly dozens of people realised that the tall, lean men in their midst were two of the world's top tennis players.
Both players said they were sad they couldn't stop to sign autographs, but with a limited time slot, they had to press onwards and upwards, to the hotel's 28th floor and a small, circular room with deep armchairs where butlers offering more towels and water hovered.
This is the holding room which opens onto the 212m-high helipad, and where all were required to sign disclaimers before walking the red carpet up to the open platform for their interview, conducted by Dubai One's charismatic presenter Tom Urqhart. Once the chat was wrapped up, the players posed for pictures, and Djokovic got his shot in — over the sea, of course.