Kolkata: The organisers of Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships are relieved that the better part of the tournament is already, but has a fervent prayer on their leaps for the 2022 edition - that of seeing the crowd back. The knowledgable, and loyal crowd, have added to the character of the tournament over the years but the ‘new normal’ meant it had to be an event behind closed doors.
Sparing a thought about the crowd, Salah Tahlak, the Tournament Director said their role in creating a ‘‘great atmosphere’’ at the Centre Court has been always a given. ‘‘It has been a different experience hosting a tournament without fans. Our fans are very passionate and knowledgable the sport and they create such a great atmosphere in the Dubai Duty Free stadium when their favourite players are on court.
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‘‘We have so many great memories of when Centre Court is completely full and the sound changes from the roar of the crowd when a player hits a great shot to absolute silence where you could hear a pin drop moment when a player is about to serve for a vital point. All of those elements had been missing this year but I think that everyone understands that this is a necessity in order to ensure the safety of all the players and officials involved with the tournament. Hopefully, everything will be back to normal next year and we will once again return to a full house,’’ Tahlak said.
The tournament faced challenges on multiple fronts - if hosting it with strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols was one, a stellar line-up in both the WTA and ATP line-ups took a bit of hit with some late pullouts due to injuries and the eight-time winner Roger Federer staying away after his exit from Qatar event. Admitting that such things are par for the course, the official told Gulf News during an exclusive chat: ‘‘We had a great response from players to this year’s tournament as the players love coming to Dubai and they are keen to keep playing. We had four of the top 10 and 11 of top 20 women players signed up including our former champions Elina Svitolina, Belinda Bencic and Petra Kvitova. Unfortunately, we lost some of the players due to injury, which is a common occurance but the field was one of the strongest we have had.
‘‘Likewise for the men, we had three of top 10 and eight of top 20 signed up including world no.4 Dominic Thiem, No.8 Andrey Rublev and former Dubai winner Roberto Bautista-Agut. Unfortunately, we had a number of players drop out, including eight-time winner Roger Federer but we wish him well as he makes his comeback this year.’’
The dates of the Dubai events had to be re-jigged and pushed back to March in view of the change of dates of Australian Open, the first slam of the year, as well as the uncertainty over both the ATP and WTA calendars.
‘‘Hosting the tournament following the Covid-19 protocols has been a very new experience but I am delighted to say that we have had great support from the UAE authorities and particularly the Dubai Sports Council and Dubai Health Authority who have been a great help. We have also had great support from the WTA and ATP and all of our efforts have ensured that the tournament can go ahead, that players are working, as well as the officials, so that is a good thing,’’ Tahlak summed it.
The tournament had certainly come a long way from the earlier days, when Tahlak used to jet down to major tournaments round the world to contact the players. With the DDF event getting a thumbs-up from both players’ bodies, has it become any easier for him to rope in players for the tournament?
‘‘The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships has been running since 1993 for the ATP week and since 2001 for the WTA week, so the tournament has a very good reputation among the players and the organising bodies. The players and officials love coming to Dubai at this time of year and we make sure that we look after them very well.
‘‘We have great facilities for the players and this year, we installed an outdoor gym on the lawns for the players so that they could have their own training facilities. So we usually have a great field of players every year and over the years, we have had the very best and we expect that to continue,’’ he signed off.