Kay (from left), Bharat and Sagari Godkhindi at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: None of the Godkhindis play tennis. Perhaps the closest that they ever came in contact with the sport early was sisters Kay and Sagari were chosen as ballkids at the annual Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships during those early years of the annual event in the 1990s.

Years later, and with dad Bharat as the proverbial cog, the Godkhindis sure do know how to run a successful tennis-related business through their Brand Plus Inc company that has blossomed over the past three decades alongside the tournament.

Held under the patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the tournament has grown over to be one of the most successful competitions in the world winning several awards as well. It was also the third tournament in professional tennis history to award equal prize money for both men and women.

The tournament has grown, and so has the Godkhindi venture into a successful establishment serving tennis through everything that they do, thus signifying yet another success for Dubai and the owners of the annual tennis event.

Hailing from an advertising background while at the Dubai Duty Free, Bharat got into the business of sport and tennis by default. “You can say I morphed into it,” he said. “Colm [McLoughlin] had given the mandate to use sport as a medium to promote Dubai and I was one of those on board to carry this out.”

Bharat is the managing director of Brand Plus Inc, while his daughters are directors of the company. “We may not play tennis, but we love the business of tennis,” he added. “We travel around the world for top WTA and ATP meetings, Grand Slams and we know all the players, agents and the connections in the world of tennis. We are very comfortable in this world that we have created, and we are loving it.

“Ours is just another success story for Dubai Duty Free and for Dubai and the UAE. We are an outside company, but yet we have been a crucial part of the DNA. We have been allowed to grow and now the family has now come in to join me. If DDF is the big tree, then Brand Plus Inc is a new branch that has grown with proper nourishment and care.”

By 1999, Bharat had parted ways with Dubai Duty Free and joined Sportsworld briefly before becoming a consultant and adviser to the tournament. In that process, he took over the management of the ATP event in Milan in 2004, and since then there has been no looking back for him. Slowly, both his daughters got involved in his business with the elder sibling Kay finishing her education and joining Tennis Australia [2008 to 2012] before Sagari joined in.

Godkhindi took over the event in Milan with the mandate and authority from Dubai Duty Free, and then shifted it to Zagreb where it remained for 11 years. The tournament then moved from Croatia to Sofia in 2016 due to an issue in terms of financial under-writing. “And ever since then I have been under-writing this event with my company along with Dubai Duty Free as minor sponsor,” Bharat said. “As a result of this, I have been helping them with the Dubai event and we’ve been running the Sofia event on our own accord.”

Two weeks back, the Godkhindis returned after overseeing yet another successful edition of the Sofia Open that attracted seven of the top-30 players, including Karen Khachanov, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Fernando Verdasco, Roberto Bautista Agut, Gael Monfils, Stan Wawrinka and ultimate champion Daniil Medvedev. The event, held under the patronage of the Bulgarian Sports Minister Krasen Kralev, attracted a near-full house of 12,000 on the final.

“It’s also important for an event like Sofia to have sponsors like Dubai Duty Free and Emirates Airline to come on-board and make their presence felt in new markets,” Bharat said. “We owe our success to so many people, people like Colm [McLoughlin], Salah [Tahlak], Sinead [El Sibai] and Ramesh [Cidambi], who have all been our main support since the past so many years. All of them have been influential in our success story.

“We all love doing what we are doing and it has been an amazing ride for me.”