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Tennis: Dubai vs Doha

dubai tennis, doha tennis, Roger FedererWINTER GAMES. Hats off to the guy that works out tennis players’ schedules; they must have an encyclopaedic knowledge of flight times and connections. This season started on December 31 with the Qatar ExxonMobil Open for Men (won by Britain’s Andy Murray, and finishing on January 5). The tour the moves Down Under for the Australian Open, the first major of the season.

Tennis is back in the Gulf on February 18 with the Qatar Total Open for Women. The day after Doha finishes, female players will make the short, one-hour trip to Dubai to take part in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, starting on February 25 until March 1 with the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour tournament.

Then, from March 3 to 8, the ATP International Series Gold event will attract to Dubai some of the best male players in the world. Doha might have to make do with what free dates it can take; Dubai has the luxury of running the men’s and women’s events back-to-back - helping marketing, and concentrating efforts over one fortnight.

FIRING DOWN THE ACES. Dubai’s and Doha’s tournaments for men were inaugurated in 1993 and over the years, the balance has shifted repeatedly from one to the other: upon inauguration, Doha got the likes of Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, whereas Dubai’s finalists were less known Alexander Volkov and Karel Novacek. But rapidly, both venues became equally attractive to internationally acclaimed players.

Named ‘Tournament of the Year’ for the fourth consecutive year, the Dubai Tennis Championship received 13 ATP/WTP awards; world #1 player Roger Federer (who owns a home in Dubai) is almost considered one of the fixtures in this Championship. He has won it four times. Still, Federer has also begun his competitive year in Doha on three occasions, winning the competition in 2005 and 2006.

MAKE IT BIG. In 2007, over 120,000 spectators attended the competition at the Dubai Tennis Stadium, homed by the Aviation Club Tennis Center since 1993 - and where visitors can also enjoy the popular Irish Village and Century Village. The stadium comprises a 5,000 seats center court, VIP area and Royal enclosure among other technical facilities. In 2007, Dubai Duty Free, owners and organizers of the Championship - introduced the Hawk-Eye technology for $3 million, in order to improve transmission and broadcasting of the games. Around 400 million people watched the tournament on TV thanks to intensive media coverage: respectively, six and 17 regional and global networks cover the WTA and the ATP competitions.

In Qatar, the competition is held at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex, where a wide range of activities consisting of exhibitions, children’s painting, a cultural village and sponsors’ hospitality tents are also provided.

Beyond the size and the technicalities, prize money obviously is another pull. With a total purse of $1,049,000 out of which $171,000 go in the winner’s pocket, the Qatar ATP Open seems less attractive than Dubai’s that boasts a $1,426,000 purse with $300,000 for the winner. Compared to amounts up for grabs at universally known tournaments like Wimbledon, where total purse will reach $9.83 million with $1.37million for the winner, Arab tournaments may appear not that enthralling, but then again, the pressure on the player is not the same: the winner is expected to make 1,000 points in Wimbledon against 300 points in Dubai and 250 points in Qatar.

FEMALE PUSH. In 2001, perceiving the increasing interest in women’s sports in the region, both venues organized their first women’s tennis championship and Qatar has been pursuing a constant upgrading strategy since: from its initial $600,000, Doha increased its purse by 140 percent to $1,34 million in 2007 when winner Justin Henin collected $256,320, right after banking $231,000 for her first title of the year in Dubai. And Doha is expected to double its purse to $2.7 million in 2008. Only the game’s four Grand Slams and a few others will remain more lucrative.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Faleh Al-Thani, president of the Qatar Tennis Federation, expects to afford a Tier One status to his event, and looks forward “to seeing what role Qatar plays in the future of women’s tennis”. Doha also made a definitive step in this direction by being selected by the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour to host the Sony Ericsson Championships for three years and $42 million. The Sony Ericsson Championships will feature record prize money of $4.45 million with the highest single payout in women’s tennis to date at $1,485,000.

SPONSORS, AND MORE SPONSORS. Last September, Dubai Duty Free and Barclays inked a three year long, $9 million worth sponsorship agreement that will allow the bank to become title sponsor of the Dubai championship (both ATP and WTP) from 2008 to 2010. A new logo has been unveiled featuring a falcon (traditional symbol of the UAE) and a tennis ball on a white background. Banks are also in order in Doha where the Qatar National Bank (QNB) renewed for the 15th consecutive year its sponsorship of the tennis tournament.


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