It’s been well over a decade that I have been based out of Dubai with family, and believe it or not, there are certain telltale signs around February every year that sets my alarm bells ringing that the tennis time is drawing near.
A family friend would nudge me, well in advance, to find out if Roger Federer will be coming again, office colleagues would pass by with their polite reminders for passes as a detour past the Dubai Tennis Stadium assures you that one of the most eagerly anticipated fortnights of sport in the city’s calendar is here.
There have been some really successful editions with some of the biggest names of the game coming to the party, some not quite so thanks to may be the shock results or late pullouts — but then that’s the nature of sport. The enduring quality of this tournament, if you ask me, has been the blend of the family feel first with some quality tennis — even though the nearly uninterrupted presence of the Swiss master over the last decade guaranteed the tournament a distinctive class and identity.
The two weeks on offer this year has a somewhat lopsided appeal about it — and the organisers have not tried to skirt the issue. While the women’s field has a depth which can rival any front ranking WTA Tour stop — Sharapova or no Sharapova — the same cannot be said about the ATP week though a late confirmation from Federer can still go a long way in dramatically uplifting the mood of his legion of admirers here.
In a recent interview with Gulf News, the Tournament Director Salah Talak tried to address the obvious question of the absence of a single name from the Big Four of men’s tennis — and the answers were pretty obvious. While Federer has made it clear that he will be picking and choosing his tournaments to possibly conserve his career till the 2020 Olympics, the organisers have still not given up hope on him — while the oldest No. 1 in men’s game had actually kept Dubai on his radar after his Slam No. 20 at the Australian Open.
Andy Murray, to quote the Dubai Duty Free official, had promised to come back to defend his crown but was felled by the hip injury which required a major surgery while Novak Djokovic — a multiple champion and another of the crowd favourites here — has chosen to extend his break from the game. Rafael Nadal, it’s public knowledge now, always prefers the US swing around this time of the year rather than Dubai.
If the turn of events has made Grigor Dimitrov, the only player in the men’s top-10 to feature in the line-up as the top seed, it begs of the obvious question in the context of men’s tennis rather than just Dubai — what happens to the men’s game after the ‘Big Four’?
Such doubts, I am sure, cannot really rob the two-week tennis extravaganza of it’s usual festive feel. If I know Dubai right, the show will surely go on ...