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Wimbledon vs. the DTC

It’s summer, and that means it’s Wimbledon. But while many consider the championship to be the summit of the professional game, young upstarts like the Dubai Tennis Championship have other ideas.

It’s summer, and that means it’s Wimbledon. But while many consider the championship to be the summit of the professional game, young upstarts like the Dubai Tennis Championship have other ideas.

 

The Dubai Tennis Championship began life as simply the Dubai Men’s Open back in 1993. Now the men’s competition is in its 18th year, and the women’s in its 10th. Its home is The Aviation Club Tennis Centre. Played on a hard court, it has attracted some big names – it is, after all, part of the ATP and WTA tours. But it tends to be a supplementary tournament for the very biggest of names. They attend when it suits them, and skip it when it doesn’t.

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Ah, Wimbledon. Strawberries and cream. Immaculate lawns. Sunshine. The championship at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in London is widely regarded as the pinnacle of the professional game. It has pedigree, being the sports oldest tournament, and credibility, as one of the four “Grand Slam” events on the tennis calendar. 128 competitors across both men’s and women’s tournaments battle it out over two weeks every summer. If you told any tennis player they could play only one tournament in their life, they would choose this one.

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The Dubai Tennis Championship has more lately been known as the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship, for the obvious reason that the bank has flashed the color of its money. For $9 million, Barclays secured title sponsorship rights for the tournament from 2008 up until this year. Other sponsors of the event, which is run by Dubai Duty Free, include Rolex, Emirates, and Lacoste (which provides clothing for all on-court officials - cute).

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“The Club has always sought to retain the unique image and character of The Championships and has successfully achieved this over many years by developing long-term mutually beneficial Official Supplier agreements with a range of blue-chip brands, as well as specifically not commercializing the grounds overtly,” says the website. In other words, the thirteen brands listed on the website (including Slazenger, Rolex, HSBC and IBM) pay an awful lot of cash, and don’t get much exposure in return.

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Win one of the singles tournaments in Dubai and you’ll be in line for $383,000. And if you make runner up, don’t be too upset – the losing finalist collects $180,000. In the doubles event, a winning pair will share a respectable $113,450. Losing finalists, $53,320. All in all, a prize fund in the region of $2 million. Pretty good, if you ask Kipp.

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But not so good when compared to the Wimbledon prize fund, which has almost $14 million to dole out. Claim a singles title and you’ll collect a cool $1 million, and if you miss out in the final you can comfort yourself with a nice friendly half million. Doubles winners collect $240,000, runners up $120,000. Wins in other areas of the competition bag you as follows: mixed doubles, $92,000; invitation doubles, $17,500, and wheel chair doubles $7,000.

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Stadium
 

The Dubai Tennis Stadium comprises a 5,000 seat centre court, VIP area and Royal enclosure, press office, press interview rooms, Sportsworld Media Group offices, and Sony Ericsson WTA and ATP World Tour offices. It has been voted “Best venue” by players on the ATP tour for three consecutive years. Established in 1996, when not in use for tennis it’s a concert venue, and it has hosted stars including Sting and Bryan Adams. But capacity is low – between 5,000 and 7,500 people.

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When you think of Wimbledon, you think of Centre Court. The main surface and stadium must surely be the most famous tennis court in the world. Its only regular use is for the two weeks of the year in which the tournament takes place. The original roof, from 1922, was replaced in 1992, then again between 2006 and 2009, and is now fully retractable. Technically, it’s old. But we’ll side with capacity (15,000) and history over Dubai’s modernity.

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Coverage of the Dubai Tennis Tournament is divided between the men’s and women’s game, and between them they feature on a respectable 37 networks across the globe. The centre court is covered from start to finish by the Dubai Sports Channel and and the Sportsbrand Media Group, but in many parts of the world coverage is not live, or consists of highlights.

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While Dubai coverage is professional, Wimbledon coverage is practically a military operation. As host broadcaster, the BBC uses 78 cameras to capture action across the entire All England Club, content which is then shared with 40 other international networks. It’s the largest annual broadcast operation in the world, with nine courts receiving live coverage. As part of the All England strategy to achieve as high an audience as possible, in most parts of the world at least some of the tournament is free-to-air.

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The tournament was threatened with expulsion from the WTA tour last year after Shahar Peer, an Israeli player, was refused entry into the UAE. In a statement tournament director Salah Tahlak said public sentiment in the Middle East was high following the recent attacks in Gaza, and that the presence of the world number 48 “would have antagonized our fans." The WTA called it unacceptable, and the tournament was fined a record $300,000.

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No such trouble at Wimbledon. After all it is a terribly English affair, and everyone gets along quite nicely. The closest it comes to controversy is rather dull conversations on whether women grunt too loudly, clothes are appropriate, slower balls are needed, or the roof should be closed. Although this year did see the Romanian Victor Henescu fined $10,000 for spitting at some abusive fans.

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With a miniscule 5.9 inches of rain falling a year, the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship does not have to worry much about the weather. Though ironically, this year the men’s final was interrupted by rain. Twice. But it’s not as if the tournament has form: reports say the last significant rain disruption was 2007, and before that 1993.

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There’s a reason they built that roof on Centre Court: So they could get the tournament finished on time. Wimbledon is world famous for both the quality of tennis, and the dramatic delays brought about by rain during the English summer. But it could all be a bit of a perception issue, as it turns out that; statistically, there is only one day of play lost to rain in every 50. Still, it can’t top Dubai’s February climate, which is close to ideal for the game.

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An overwhelming win for Wimbledon; it turns out a young upstart like the DTC simply can’t compete with history. Not yet, anyway.

 

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