UAE tennis players get in on the Mubadala action

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High fives: Omar Behroozian (r) and Feliciano Lopez.

UAE’s top players hailed the Mubadala World Tennis Championship and Abu Dhabi Sports Council’s initiative to stage a tournament for local Emiratis ahead of the three-day showpiece, admitting they are in desperate need of competitions held on home soil.

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The country’s No. 1 and No. 2, Omar Behroozian and Mahmoud Nader, were the finalists of the inaugural Abu Dhabi Sports Council UAE National Cup that featured eight of the UAE’s top players, and their reward was a doubles match with MWTC pros Kevin Anderson and Feliciano Lopez on centre court Friday.

Behroozian won the newly introduced tournament and bagged a Dh24,000 cheque while runnerup Nader earned Dh12,000, courtesy of the ADSC. Nader partnered Anderson and Behroozian teamed up with Lopez, and they faced off in a 10-point tiebreak playoff.

“This is a great start,” Nader said of the initiative taken by the ADSC and Mubadala. 

“It was a good tournament and we got to see where our level is at as well as the younger Emirati players. Matches like these give you motivation for our upcoming duties like Davis Cup and the GCC Championships, which are both important events for us.

Top team: Anderson (l) and Nader.

“This gave us a chance to play some much-needed matches, as we don’t have many tournaments held in the UAE, and we hope it is just the beginning and that they host this event every year.”

Earlier in the day, Spaniard world No. 5 Rafael Nadal helped young winners of the Mubadala Community Cup get their 2016 off to a flying start with a tennis clinic for the under 10 and under 12 category victors.

Canada’s Milos Raonic, who joins the stellar player line-up for the first time, was also in action on the clinic courts, hosting winners from the adult category where they picked up some expert tips before going on to battle it out in a Mubadala Community Cup interemirate play-off.

“It was an incredible experience playing with Rafa and I came over from France especially to be here for this,” said 12-year-old Victor Paganetti. “He is my favourite tennis player and I have met him before but to actually play with him was so much better. I hope to become a professional tennis player one day so this was a great experience for me.”

Meanwhile in the Tennis Village, fans had the chance to meet David Ferrer and Stan Wawrinka when they signed autographs for expectant visitors of all ages.

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Kevin Anderson comfortable with a place among the elites in Abu Dhabi

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In the fast lane: Kevin Anderson (r) alongside Milos Raonic (l) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Kevin Anderson is looking to follow up his breakthrough 2015 with an even better showing in the new season, which the South African will start in Abu Dhabi, facing Milos Raonic in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Thursday. 

After cracking the top-10 for the first time in his career this year and reaching a maiden grand slam quarter-final at the US Open last September, Anderson is feeling more and more comfortable facing the game’s biggest stars and is hoping to continue threatening them in the future.

Speaking at Yas Marina Circuit on Tuesday ahead of his MWTC debut, Anderson explained the reasons behind his unprecedented success in 2015.

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“I think it’s always working hard, continuing to look to get better,” said the 29-year-old. 

“I feel like I’ve got a really good team with me that are constantly helping me strive for more and improve as a player. And also just 
experience, being in those positions again, it’s a very fine line. 

“The more I’ve been in that position, the more comfortable I get. I really feel like I’m at a point where being in those positions numerous times before I think will serve me well moving forward.”

Some of those positions were painful for Anderson, particularly his five-set defeat to Novak Djokovic at the Wimbledon fourth round in July, where he was leading the world No1 by two sets but couldn’t finish the job in a marathon encounter that spanned two days.

Djokovic called it “one of the most difficult matches I have played at Wimbledon in my career” and admitted he was at times “helpless” trying to return Anderson’s cannonball serves.

Anderson can’t deny it was a disappointing experience for him not to get the win but it was a match that taught him a lot.

“Obviously I played good tennis and put myself in a position to win the match. It was definitely disappointing not coming through. But definitely I learned, got more belief in my game and the kind of tennis I feel really comfortable playing, and how my game matches up against the best player in the world,” said the world No12.

“I feel like I had him on the ropes and that part definitely gives me confidence.”

That match, in a way, helped Anderson break his grand slam fourth round hoodoo shortly after at the US Open where he beat Andy Murray to reach his first major quarter-final on his eighth attempt. 

“I definitely think (it helped) a little bit, just heading into that match a bit more calm and collected,” said Anderson.

“Also playing good tennis. I just felt I did a better job there sticking throughout the match, not giving him a chance to get back in, which I felt I let Novak do a little bit more in the third set. I needed to have raised my game a bit more. It was tough against Djokovic but I definitely felt I was able to take it one step further at the US Open.”

At 203cm, Anderson is one of the tallest players on tour and while height is an advantage when it comes to serve and hitting big groundstrokes, it can also be a hindrance to moving well on the court. But the Florida-based Anderson doesn’t feel being tall has held him back.

“Being tall, people have always looked at it as a negative – maybe it’s just a little bit tougher but it’s something that you can learn, that you can train. I think you see a lot more guys who are tall moving very well,” he explains. 

“It’s something I work hard on. You definitely need a lot more strength, also a lot of rehab because your body is taking more stress and weight through the joints when you’re moving.”

Anderson and Raonic are two Abu Dhabi first-timers and are joined by Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the MWTC this weekend, which serves as an unofficial curtain-raiser of the new tennis season.

“Everybody wants to do well at the beginning of the year, it’s a great opportunity to transition from practice mode and getting into tournament mode,” said Anderson.

Fans will get to witness two of the best servers of the game facing off tomorrow. Asked what makes Raonic’s serve so special, Anderson said:

“I think his biggest thing is just the pace, he brings in a lot of pace when he’s serving.

“He can hit his spots, he’s one of the best in the world. Playing someone with a big serve, you always want to stay patient, you won’t have too many looks but you just try to stick it in. Patience is probably the most important factor.”

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Belgium Davis Cup team train with UAE players in AD

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Belgium lost to Great Britain in the 2015 Davis Cup final.

2015 Davis Cup runners-up Belgium have concluded a six-day training camp with up-and-coming UAE players at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.

Thirty five highly-motivated juniors had the opportunity to learn from, and be inspired by the Belgians, as well as six top-200 players who accompanied the team during the session. The trip was facilitated by Belgium’s Hope and Spirit Foundation.

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The team’s selection of Zayed Sports City as a pre-season training location, further solidified the reputation Abu Dhabi has earned as an international tennis destination.

Throughout December, world number 19 Elina Svitolina has been hitting at the tennis stadium, which will host the Mubadala World Tennis Championship later this week.

The Zayed Sports City complex in Abu Dhabi will host top tennis stars this week.
 

As the largest and most professional tennis complex in the city, Zayed Sports City has been central in the increasing popularity of the sport. The site includes nine courts, which are open to the public, and offers programs for men, women, juniors and children through PSS Tennis Academy.

Providing high-quality coaching and facilities, the site has more than 100 high performance youth athletes, including an NCAA Division I scholar.

Zayed Sports City developed the largest community tennis tournament in the region, the Abu Dhabi Wilson Tennis Cup, which will take place in March.
 
World number 109 Ruben Bemelmans commented on the facility: “The courts at Zayed Sports City are nice. For a player, you notice the court plays at perfect speed. The weather obviously is a plus, with perfect conditions to prepare for professional players who go to Australia. I think it is a perfect accommodations to prepare as a professional tennis player and to practice as a child here, especially with world-class coaches.”

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