Dubai: The UAE’s position as a major sporting hub looks to be further consolidated with the professional men’s and women’s tours deciding on hosting major competitions in the country.
People in the know have informed Gulf News that the first week of the new season will see Abu Dhabi hosting a WTA 500 event from January 5-13 for the first time, followed by the qualifying rounds of the 2021 Australian Open being planned for Dubai.
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Last week, WTA Chief Steve Simon had informed that the WTA planned to start the 2021 season with the Australian Open qualifiers being held in early January, and for the first time outside Australia.
It has now come to pass that the WTA and the ATP have been in close talks with sports authorities in the UAE while working out the finer details for both major competitions to be held here.
Big-time international tennis first arrived in the UAE with the launch of the Dubai Duty Free Men’s open in 1993. This was followed by the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge on the ITF Women’s Circuit at the Al Habtoor Hotel from 1998. The WTA’s tournament was first hosted in Dubai way back in 2000 with then world NO. 1 Martina Hingis emerging as champion in the inaugural year.
Traditionally, the WTA opens its season with the ASB Classic in Auckland and the Brisbane International followed by three more events in Shenzhen, Adelaide and Hobart before the Australian Open starts. The men’s ATP Tour has the Brisbane Open and the Qatar Open in Week One followed by the Adelaide Open and the Heineken Open in Auckland before players proceeding to Melbourne Park.
However, with the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down, tennis authorities have decided on an alternate course of action that will enable these professional athletes to continue with their lives playing sport.
As per the tentative plan, the qualified players will travel on charter flights from Dubai to Melbourne to serve the mandated quarantine period ahead of the season-opening Grand Slam. People in the know, however, insisted that the actual picture will be clearer within the next couple of days and following a virtual joint meeting of tennis officials that has been scheduled later on Sunday.
The tennis plan of action at the moment is to have the WTA 500 tournament in the first week of the season at the International Tennis Complex of Zayed Sports City from January 5 to 13 followed by the Australian Open qualifiers at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium from January 9 to 13.
The WTA has attempted a rebrand of itself with women’s professional top-level events now getting renamed as the WTA Masters, WTA 500 and WTA 250 in close consonance with the naming structure of the ATP Masters 1000, ATP 500 and ATP 250.
As per the testing schedule agreed upon for the Australian Open qualifiers, there will be at least 48 matches held per day on 10 courts of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium in Al Garhoud and by the end of the week, the men’s and women’s categories will see a total of 32 players advancing for the main competition in Melbourne.
The qualifying rounds for Grand Slams are usually a complex competition with as many as 128 players in the men’s and women’s sections vying for a spot in the main tournaments.
“There are quite a few top tennis players who have chosen Dubai for their off-season preparations, and these players will join the qualifiers in special charter flights heading to Melbourne,” the official told Gulf News on condition of anonymity.
“The world has never been in a situation like this before, so people have had to innovate and think out of the box to ensure that sporting life goes on as normal while maintaining all safety standards laid down by international agencies and local governments. Of course, neither of these competitions — the WTA 500 tournament in Abu Dhabi or the Australian Open qualifiers in Dubai — will be open to spectators and public,” he assured.