Dubai: There was a sudden buzz in late 2000 that there was going to be a welcome addition of a $585,000 women’s event to the ATP week of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships — which I had been covering for four years already. What made it even more exciting was an early confirmation from the then world No 1 Martina Hingis for the inaugural event.
As the WTA event steps into the landmark of 20 years, it’s possibly time to pause and reflect.
Going back in time, things seem pretty fresh. Hingis was leading the field with Frenchwoman Mary Pierce holding up the bottom of the draw as the second seed — and the two were expected to meet in the final.
But as the opening week rolled out, nothing stayed as per expectations as the second-seeded Frenchwoman was ousted in the quarter-finals by Australian Rachel McQuillan in straight sets.
With not much of an opposition standing in her way, Hingis went on to pick up her third title of 2001 and the 70th of her career.
We may not have had the fortune of a strong match-up for the first-ever final on Saturday, but we enjoyed the performance of Tunisia’s Selima Sfar, who had been handed out one of the two wild cards (Algeria’s Bahia Mouhtassin was the other). The petite girl from Tunisia went on to punch way above her weight before losing to good friend Nathalie Tauziat in three engrossing sets.
The inaugural competition had made the right sort of impact while announcing its arrival in the best possible manner on the WTA circuit.
As the years rolled by, the stars came and experienced what Dubai is all about. Amelie Mauresmo, Justine Henin (with four titles to her name), Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters — with Venus winning three titles during her visits here — they had been all here.
And then in the middle of it was a night one simply cannot erase — when India’s Sania Mirza created a flutter at the 2005 edition in going all the way to the quarter-finals.
Given a wild card, Sania battled her way past Croatian Jelena Kostanic in three gruelling sets before knocking off fourth seed and Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets the following day.
Mirza’s run ended with a 2-6, 2-6 defeat to Jelena Jankovic in the last eight.
It’s been a string of memories over the past two decades — and there is promise of more in the coming years!