Superstar Maria Sharapova is set to make a long-awaited return to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after accepting a wild card to join a field of top contenders for one of the most sought-after titles on the WTA Tour.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam winner last played here in 2006 and defeated former champion Martina Hingis and defending champion Lindsay Davenport before falling in the final to another former Dubai champion, Justin Henin. Her success both before and after her visit here has led to her becoming a household name around the world.
There is no question that Sharapova is one of the greatest players of the last 15 years. She has won 36 career titles to date, including the Australian Open, the US Open and Wimbledon, all once, and Roland Garros twice. She also won the WTA Finals in 2004 and the Fed Cup in 2008, before winning a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics. She also reached five other Grand Slam finals and appeared in the finals of 17 other events.
After reaching the quarter-finals of the 2016 Australian Open where she was beaten by Serena Williams, she missed the next 15 months before returning to the WTA Tour in some style in April 2017, reaching the semi-finals in her first tournament back, in Stuttgart. A thigh injury then forced her to miss a significant part of last season, restricting her European clay court campaign and forcing her to miss the entire grass court season. An arm injury then affected her during the run-up to the US Open, but she recovered in time to cause one of the biggest upsets of the last Grand Slam of the year when she overcame world number two Simona Halep in the opening round. Just a few weeks after that she claimed her 36th career title in Tianjin without dropping a set in her five matches.
She made an impressive start to this season too with a semi-final in Shenzhen, and was unlucky to run into one of the hottest players on the WTA Tour this year, Angelique Kerber, in the third round of the Australian Open.
But Sharapova will face strong competition as she bids to add her first Dubai trophy to her trophy cabinet.
“Maria Sharapova has enjoyed much success and won many titles, but she will face very strong opponents here who are equally keen to claim the title,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “It will be interesting to see if she can fight off her eager challengers who will be determined to make headlines by beating one of the legends of the game.”
“Maria Sharapova is one of the most famous athletes in the world, and in 2014 she became the first tennis player, male or female, to pass 15 million fans on Facebook” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “It is a pleasure to welcome such a popular player back to Dubai and we look forward to seeing how she fares against so many other contenders for the title.”
Sharapova is just one of the stars who are set to descend on Dubai for a two week extravaganza of top-class entertainment, which begins with the WTA event that takes place 19th to 24th February and includes three former world number ones: Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza; 2018 Sydney champion, two-time Grand Slam winner and Australian Open semi-finalist Angelique Kerber; and 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova. Also in the line-up is defending Dubai champion and recent Brisbane winner Elina Svitolina, 2017 US Open runner-up Madison Keys, and Australian number one and 2018 Sydney runner-up Ashleigh Barty.
The tournament takes place between February 26 and March 3 with the 26th staging of the ATP World Tour event which includes and ATP World Tour Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free, and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Grandstand ticket prices for the WTA event start at AED55 for opening rounds to AED735 for the ATP finals, with daily Prime A and Prime B tickets and season tickets also available. (All inclusive of VAT).
Tickets are on sale online, and from the Box Office, which is open 9am -9pm daily. For ticket sales go to http://www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com/en/tickets For further information about the tournament visit www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com.
World No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov will headline the field at next month’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which is missing notable regulars like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and last year’s winner, Andy Murray, who is recovering from hip surgery.
Dimitrov, who entered the top-three for the first time after winning the ATP Finals last November, will be making just his second Dubai appearance, and first since 2011.
He is joined by Dubai resident Lucas Pouille, Richard Gasquet, Roberto Bautista Agut, Karen Khachanov, Damir Dzumhur, Borna Coric with Italian world No. 73 Thomas Fabbiano the last direct entrant into the draw.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) November 15, 2017
Federer, a seven-time champion and resident of Dubai for nearly a decade, was shocked in the second round by Evgeny Donskoy last year in the emirate.
The 36-year-old world No. 2 has been cutting down on his schedule to lengthen his career, and it looks like Dubai didn’t make the cut on his calendar this season. Alternatively, he could be playing Acapulco, which coincides with the Dubai week on the ATP calendar.
Acapulco used to be played on clay for 20 years before the tournament switched its surface to hard courts in 2014. Since then, it has been directly competing with Dubai — also played on hard courts — when it comes to attracting the best players in the world.
Djokovic, who told Sport360 last month that he was still undecided on whether he will play the Dubai/Acapulco week and that it will depend on how he is feeling physically, chose the tournament in Mexico last year over a trip to the UAE. Rafael Nadal also played Acapulco in 2017, losing the final to Sam Querrey.
This year, Acapulco features a marquee line-up that includes Nadal, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori and Juan Martin del Potro.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships takes place from February 19 to March 3, starting with the WTA event, followed by the ATP (starts February 26).
Grandstand ticket prices for the WTA event start at Dh55 for opening rounds to Dh735 for the ATP finals, with daily Prime A and Prime B tickets and season tickets also available (all inclusive of VAT).
Tickets went on sale online on Thursday January 18 at www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com/en/tickets, and will be available at the Box Office from Thursday January 25.
The 25th edition of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships wraps up on Saturday night and it was quite fun getting the players to reminisce about their early memories of the tournament.
When tennis touched down in the Arabian Gulf for the first time in 1993, there was so much scepticism and uncertainty about the event simply because no one knew anything about Dubai or Doha and it was the players’ curiosity that brought them to the region early on.
“The first time, February 1993, when I saw an ATP tournament in Dubai on the calendar I said ‘wow’, more or less, ‘where is that?’ That was my first reaction but my second was that ‘I wanna go’,” Fabrice Santoro, the runner-up of the inaugural Dubai edition told Sport360.
“It’s always a great opportunity when you do this job to see new places, new cultures and everything. So I entered the tournament. I went there and it was the beginning of the opening of Dubai, a couple of hotels, a couple of buildings but not many. A lot of sand in the city and the old city was there, and when you look at what Dubai became 25 years later it’s one of the biggest transformations I’ve seen in the world. Probably the biggest.
“I remember when Sheikh Mohammed (bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, vice president and prime minister of the UAE) gave us the trophy. It was unique to get a trophy as a finalist from his hands.
“I played almost every year, I saw it for the first time in 1993 and I said ‘I wanna go back’.”
The retired Frenchman enjoyed lots of success in the Gulf region, reaching four singles finals combined in Dubai and Doha, and capturing the title in 2000 in Qatar and 2002 in the UAE.
“I always played well in the Middle East, I won just six tournaments in my career and I won Doha and Dubai, and I also won both in doubles,” recalls Santoro.
“I’m always happy to come to this part of the world, even when I don’t come for work, I come for holidays. Sometimes the atmosphere in Europe – I love Europe, I love France – but sometimes the atmosphere is heavy, a lot of pollution, the rhythm is high, in the street people are very stressed and when you arrive here it’s like it’s another rhythm, it’s comfortable.”
Supporting Arab talent
The tournament didn’t just bring some of the best players in the world to Dubai, it also helped Arab players by providing wildcards, giving them a chance to gain some ATP or WTA points by competing in events they wouldn’t necessarily have been able to compete in with their ranking alone.
Tunisian Selima Sfar, who is the only Arab woman to ever crack the top-100, has fond memories of playing at the Aviation Club, where she reached the quarter-finals in the inaugural women’s edition in 2001.
“I remember for myself, especially in Dubai, I always played very well, I have my best memories here,” recalls Sfar, who is now a commentator and analyst for beIN Sports.
“And I remember playing Anna Kournikova (in 2002) and of course everybody wanted to come and watch Kournikova, so having an Arab player playing against Kournikova on centre court, night session, it was full, really full. And it’s the first time I noticed ‘wow, the crowd in Dubai like tennis’. I was really surprised, it was a great atmosphere.”
To celebrate the tournament’s silver jubilee, Dubai Duty Free published a book called ‘Game, Set and Dubai: A Quarter Century of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships’ that includes an extensive history of the event as well as the early sports revolution that put the emirate on the global sports map.
It includes some fascinating old photos of Dubai – including an aerial view of Emirates Golf Club from the late eighties when it was only surrounded by the desert – and is definitely worth a read.
It’s been a real treat coming to this tournament for the past 10 years and hopefully it sticks around for at least another 25.