Belinda Bencic  20190222
Belinda Bencic Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Olympic champion Belinda Bencic is in town for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) at Zayed Sports City, where she will face new star of the sport — US Open champ Emma Raducanu — on Day One of the festival in Abu Dhabi.

The event seems to grow bigger each year and this time around — the 13th edition — is no exception with the likes of Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Andy Murray, Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapalov and Casper Rudd lining up in the men’s draw alongside the ladies competition.

The ladies joined the event in 2017 and stars such as Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova have already graced the big stage in Abu Dhabi. But the 24-year-old Swiss youngster Bencic is not overawed by the occasion in the slightest and seems to be just as excited about visiting the UAE for the first time as she is about making her bow at the MWTC.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to visit Abu Dhabi,” Bencic told Gulf News in an exclusive chat on Wednesday ahead of the December 16-18 event. “I’ve never been there and I’ve never played at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship so I’m really happy about this opportunity. I’m excited to meet everyone there and see how it is. I’ve been watching the Championship on TV for years so I’m quite happy to be a part of it this year.

Bencic has plans to do some serious sightseeing during her time here and one iconic landmark is top of her list. “I definitely want to visit the Grand Mosque,” she said. “I’ve seen so many pictures and I want to see what it looks like in person. It’s definitely high on the bucket list for me.”

While the UAE has continued to grow as a global sporting destination — with top golf, UFC, Formula One, football and rugby events all rubbing shoulders with the likes of tennis, which has had a decades-long major presence on the UAE sporting map, with more events popping up all the time from Ras Al Khaimah to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. That is something not lost on Bencic.

“I feel like the city has done so many events but they’re really trying to grow their presence when it comes to tennis,” Bencic added. “The fans are so interested in the sport and I’m sure I’ll be able to feel that atmosphere when I’m playing in the UAE. It’s just great for the sport. We have so many tournaments across the globe but in the past I played really well in Dubai and therefore I have a soft spot for the country. I love the effort the country puts into all sports but especially tennis.”

Of course, people are now sitting up to take notice of the likes of Bencic and Raducanu as a new generation of players make their mark on the sport. A gold medal from Tokyo 2020 will always take pride of place in Bencic’s trophy cabinet, regardless of how many major titles she goes on to win.

“This is a highlight from my career and is definitely something I will never forget,” she said. “The emotions and being a part of the Olympics is something I will be grateful for forever. For 2022, I definitely want to stay healthy. I am looking to get my ranking higher — aiming to get back into the Top 10 and really try to get closer to my big goal of winning a grand slam. I always strive to be better and the results will fall into place.”

Tickets to catch the three days of action, starting from Dh100 for adults and Dh50 for children, are available from Ticketmaster and Virgin Megastores across the UAE. In line with current health and safety protocols, social distancing measures will be in place within the stadium and throughout the Tennis Village.