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21 April 2024

The region’s premier tournament gets rolling

By Joy Chakravarty



Dubai Duty Free supremo Colm McLoughlin is looking as smug as the cat that got the cream… of the tennis world.


The Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship, the premier tournament in the region owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free, is now playing its 16th year for the men’s trophy and eighth for women’s, has attracted a field that would be the envy for even a Grand Slam.


The entry list is so packed with top stars that only one player outside of the top 20 could be guaranteed direct entry to the women’s event, with anyone ranked below 21 having to play the qualifying rounds or rely on a wild card.


The story continues in the same vein for the upcoming men’s event (March 3 to 8). All top five players in the world, including four-time champion Roger Federer, will be in action at the Aviation Club.


Eight of the top-10 ranked players have entered the tournament.


But that is not the only reason for McLoughlin’s happiness. In fact, for the second straight year, tickets for the final and semi-finals of both men’s and women’s tournament were sold out on the very first day, and the only seats available in the fortnight-long tennis fiesta at the start of the championship were on the first two days of the ladies event.


And a resounding vote on the tournament’s stature was delivered by Barclays, one of the foremost global banks, when they put their faith and money and took on the title sponsorship of the tournament for a period of three years.


Barclays has paid $9 million (Dh33m) for their association.


McLoughlin, a passionate tennis fan who was the brain behind the start of the tournament in 1993, is definitely pleased with the way his baby has grown.


“Am I satisfied how the tournament has shaped up?  The honest answer is yes. We are really happy with the way the tournament has grown and how it is looking this year,” said McLoughlin.


“We have eight of the top 10 women players playing this year. It would have been great if we had all 10, but then just having three is good.


So, we are very happy with what we have. And then we had eight of the top-10 men players entering.


“The entry is certainly the best we have had. We have the world No1s in both men’s and women’s field – they are both Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year, they are both multiple Grand Slam champions, they have both won here several times in the past five years and they are both simply great champions.


Among the names competing for the prestigious trophy are four-time Dubai winner Justine Henin, three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist Jelena Jankovic, French and Australian Open runner-up Ana Ivanovic and Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli.


So is this the best championship ever?


“I suppose the time to judge would be when the tournament ends. The level of play, the satisfaction of our sponsors and players, the excitement of the fans, and other factors such as the television and print media exposure – these are things that will tell us how successful the tournament was.”


Another indicator of Dubai Duty Free’s success is the fact that Dubai Tennis Championship was was named ‘Tournament of the Year’ last year by the ATP for the fourth consecutive year, and has received a total of 13 ATP/WTA awards in its short history.


“The players just love being here – they love the weather, the hospitality and the facilities,” said McLoughlin.


“If you look at the present world No1, Roger Federer, you could not really find a more decent young man anywhere in the world. Not only is he a fantastic tennis player, but Federer is also a gentleman. He always has good things to say about the tournament, and he is always promoting Dubai. And most players on the tour are like that. They always write us letters.”


McLoughlin said the decision to share the title with Barclays was a well thought out one, which came after Dubai Duty Free rejected various such proposals in the past.


“When we started the tournament, we shared our title with BMW. But then, for various reasons, BMW wanted to do something else and we continued on our own.


“We received a number of companies over the years that came to us wanting to share the title, but we kept saying no. But when Barclays came, we knew them as a well-known and reputed name and knew they will do a lot of marketing activities that will promote the tournament and Dubai well. And they have given us a lot of money,” he said.


“What we are really doing with the tournament is the marketing of not just Dubai Duty Free, but the entire emirate of Dubai. Being a global sponsor on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour is also very good for us. We are also supposed to foster and build up tennis in the region, which I think our tournament does very well,” he said.


Talking about the new global sponsorship signed with the WTA Tour (see below), McLoughlin said:


“I believe our sponsorship of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour for the past five years helped establish our brand among a sophisticated international audience.

I also think it has brought us closer to the sport of women’s tennis and to player’s themselves.


“We worked with the Tour to assess and define our marketing objectives, which resulted in the revised sponsorship benefits that are very much in line with our global marketing strategy of promoting Dubai Duty Free, the Dubai International Airport and the city itself.”



WTA tour


Dubai Duty Free entered a four-year, multi-million dollar agreement with the WTA Tour, under which they will continue as the Tour’s premier sponsor in the Asia-Pacific/Middle East region and establish a major digital media presence through the Tour, among other innovative benefits.


Cornerstone of the new partnership is Dubai Duty Free’s presenting sponsorship of the Tour’s new Video on Demand (VOD) digital media platform located at www.sonyericssonwtatour.com, which will feature on-court match highlights, off-court player personality features as well as a host of interesting additional content.


In addition, other unique elements of the new partnership include a significantly expanded television news service and an ‘iconic’ photo shoot to be conducted in Dubai with some of the world’s best women tennis players and placed in major fashion and lifestyle media.


It also includes a first-of-its-kind Zagat Survey-Sony Ericsson WTA Tour tournament city restaurant and shopping guide sponsored by Dubai Duty Free, which features player’s favourite eating and shopping establishments at various Tour stops.
In Depth