Sport360° view: Why Dubai will continue to be a hit with top tennis stars
It’s that time of the year again where tennis enthusiasts in the country get spoiled with two weeks of impeccable competition and it all starts with the women’s event today on the courts of the Aviation Club.
Before the late additions of Serena and Venus Williams, the tournament was already featuring six of the world’s top-10, headlined by new world No3 Agnieszka Radwanska and defending champion Petra Kvitova.
But without a doubt, Serena and Venus have amplified the star quality of the field and the draw went from great to spectacular with a mere two wildcard announcements.
Dubai this year could prove pivotal for Serena, who hasn’t played since her loss to Ana Ivanovic on January 19 and has been nursing a back injury. With her next tournament being Miami, which starts on March 18, had Serena not signed up for Dubai, she would have gone three months without match play, and would have only played eight matches in a period of four and a half months.
So even though the world No1 hasn’t been necessarily committed to the UAE tournament in the past, it’s safe to say she really needs those matches this week at the Aviation Club.
As for the rest of the players, the high level of the field has always confounded fans of the sport, who will be witnessing first rounds this week that could be a dream final for many other tournaments in the world.
Angelique Kerber, who was in the Doha final yesterday, will in the first round face Ana Ivanovic, a former French Open champion ranked a mere three spots below the German in the rankings.
A quick look at the qualifying draw shows someone like Eugenie Bouchard - an Australian Open semi-finalist who was seeded last week in Doha - having to fight for a spot in the main draw the following week in Dubai.
There are a few reasons why Dubai attracts such a star-studded field, why the cut-off point is so high and why the first rounds seem more competitive than any other tournament out there.
Compared to Doha, which as a Premier 5-level event had a 64-player draw including eight qualifiers and first round byes for the top eight seeds, Dubai is only a Premier-level event, with a 28-player draw, including four qualifiers plus byes for the top four seeds.
A Premier 5 tournament must offer prize money worth $2million while a Premier event can offer a minimum total prize pot of $600,000. Doha and Dubai have a deal with the WTA to alternate their status each year, meaning that next year Doha will be a Premier event and Dubai will be Premier 5.
But even though this year Dubai is a lower-tier tournament, the organisers did not offer less prize money and are still matching the $2million offered by the higher-tier Premier 5 events.
This makes the tournament particularly attractive to players, because even though the winner will only get 470 points compared to 900 in Doha and other Premier 5 events, they still get a big paycheck for playing fewer matches.
There are other Premier events that are comparable to Dubai in terms of field strength, like Brisbane for example, but there are three WTA tournaments during that week of the year, which means some players can opt for a different event.
But Dubai only has Rio coinciding with it, which is a new International-level tournament with less points up for grabs and a $250,000 prize pot.
Add to the mix some excellent hospitality, an on-site hotel for the players and great weather, and it’s easy to see why Dubai is, and will continue to be, one of the favourite tour stops for the pros.