Lofty ambitions for Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge

Hopes to attract world’s top players amid possible move to new venue

18:41 December 2, 2012

Dubai: Organisers of the annual Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge are hopeful of attracting the world’s top women’s tennis stars as the tournament expands over the next few years.

The 15th edition of the event concluded on Saturday, with 42-year-old Japanese player Kimiko Date-Krumm — ranked No. 121 in the world — becoming its oldest winner so far thanks to a 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Kazakhstan teenager Yulia Putintseva.

But with a possible relocation from the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa to the new tennis complex being built on the site of the former Metropolitan Hotel on Shaikh Zayed Road at Business Bay, Khalaf Al Habtoor, Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group of Companies, has high hopes for the future.

“Over a period of time we have perfected the art of putting this annual tournament together. We have a dedicated team led by Hani [Al Khafief] and Ivica [Ancic] and we can be proud of what we put together during this tournament,” he told Gulf News. “Our intention is to attract the best players from all over the world.

“It is always a possibility to shift to the new venue once it is ready. I think by then we will have a much bigger tournament and we will not have to suffer delays due to the weather.

“We have still not made a final decision on this, but we will be looking into shifting the tournament once the project is complete.”

The Dh4.875b project opposite Safa Park, which was started earlier this year and will eventually house one of the region’s biggest hotels and entertainment complexes, is expected to be completed in the first half of 2016. The new development will include nine outdoor tennis courts and three indoor courts.

Al Habtoor also hopes an expanded tournament will encourage Arab women’s players to develop and eventually challenge for the title. “We want to include players from the Arab world as well, but unfortunately we do not have women players in our region who can keep up with the pressures of the tour.

“Our players are not determined and cannot push enough when it comes to a crunch situation. They give up as soon as they lose the first set and we are left without anyone who can challenge for the title here.”

New Tournament Director Ivica Ancic, older brother of former men’s world No. 7 Mario, also has some changes planned. “This has been my first year in charge and from next year we will make some more additions so that we attract even more families here to this event,” he told Gulf News.

“All credit to our chairman Khalaf Al Habtoor for maintaining this family feel through 15 years of this event. And from next year we will definitely make a few additions so that we have many more people attending the matches and the activities surrounding the tournament.”

This year, former world number one Jelena Jankovic was a special guest and the Serbian had tennis clinics with children and members, while also getting involved with a ladies’ night. “It means a lot for these children to identify with a former world number one so that they get the benefit of knowing first-hand what it means to adopt tennis as a way of life,” Ancic said.

Ancic, like his brother, has also seen life on the ATP Tour, reaching a highest world ranking of 370, before a persistent back injury cut short his playing career. He has since switched to coaching and management of players before taking over as recreation manager at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa.

“In the near future we will have a dedicated tennis school at Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa and I am sure the game will grow. We have completed 15 years of this tournament and I wish we can do many more years so that this competition continues being one of the most-loved events at the end of a gruelling season,” he added.