Dubai Tennis Stadium
Dubai Tennis Stadium is set for more thrilling action Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

It comes as no surprise that in the year of the Expo 2020 Dubai, any major social or sporting event during the year will leverage its branding with the global spectacle scheduled to start here from October.

However, the organisers of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships have shown a great sense of occasion by staging a marquee line-up — for both weeks — to make the upcoming fortnight a befitting experience.

Yes, we have been spoilt over the years by being privy to some of the biggest names of the game in both and women in action here — not to speak of the famous ‘family feel’ of the venue — which made us embrace the event as an inseparable part of this sports loving city’s social calendar.

At a personal level, I now have friends from India as well as England who pencil the dates in February to coincide with their business travel or vacation.

However, the selection of the field this season makes it amply clear that the organisers were particularly focused on dishing out a women’s field which will be memorable as the WTA event reaches a landmark 20th anniversary.

The list, even after a few dropouts, boast of an awesome presence of six of top 10 players — including Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin — the American being one of the most talked about exciting talents in the game for the last one month.

Sofia Kenin and Kim Clijsters on the beach in Dubai
Sofia Kenin and Kim Clijsters on the beach in Dubai Image Credit: DDFTC

The real coup, however, lay in convincing Kim Clijsters — a former world No 1 and six-time Grand Slam winner — to announce her return to competitive tennis for the third time at the Aviation Club premises.

It’s been a strange coincidence that while her one-time great rival and Belgian compatriot Justin Henin had been a regular here and has won the singles title a record four times, the hugely popular Clijsters has never played here.

There is always a curiosity value of seeing a former champion back to where she belongs after motherhood — though the task is not going to easy at 36 years — as the great Serena Williams will testify.

She has arrived here early and had been sports headlines the world over with her Dubai appearance — but the likes of Simona Halep, Elina Svitolina, Belinda Bencic or Garbine Muguruza are not going to show her much camaraderie on court.

Roger Federer won his 100th ATP title in Dubai last year

The men’s week, however, will roll out some vintage fare again. A visit to the ‘Box Office’ at the stadium shows that sale of tickets for men’s week are already closed — and it’s not difficult to assume why. The tennis lovers are in no mood to let go the opportunity of seeing the Swiss master Roger Federer in action for what could be possibly a last tilt at a city where he has a home — though one can’t say for sure.

And then, of course, there is world No 1 Novak Djokovic, who looks sharp enough to overhaul Federer’s 20 Grand Slams (the Serbian boasts of 17 now) — a record which looked beyond reach for him even a year back. Head-to-head, the two modern greats stand at 1-1 in the two finals they have clashed in Dubai together, and nothing could be more befitting than another epic final between them here on February 29.

Over, then, to the centre court!