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22 February 2024

It's still game, set and match to Dubai

By Colin Simpson

It is a shame that external matters have affected the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships as sports fans have always looked forward eagerly to this event. The chance to see the best players in the world, the reasonable ticket prices and the excellent facilities have combined to create a generally smooth-running tournament that has provided much pleasure and entertainment over the years.

The event has established itself as one of the absolute highlights of Dubai's sporting year and hopefully it will now move on and continue to thrive and grow.

The prospects look promising. Plans have been announced to shift the championships to a new, bigger stadium at Dubai Sports City from 2011. Centre court capacity will rise from the current 5,000 to 8,000 or possibly even 10,000, easing the chronic shortage of tickets for the later stages of the event.

The women's game is going through a transitional phase and this was reflected in Dubai. Justine Henin left a void by retiring while number one and a host of Russians and East Europeans are climbing the rankings.

But it will take time for fans to get to know the newcomers and it can be easy to feel disengaged while watching, say, Kaia Kanepi versus Elena Vesnina.

Thank goodness, then, for the personality-plus Williams sisters, still going strong years after many predicted they would soon lose interest in tennis. They produced some of the most dynamic play seen so far at the event and provided a worthy champion in Venus, who made a gracious and admirable acceptance speech.

The men's event has suffered from the withdrawal of 2008 champ Andy Roddick and the unavailability of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, plus other top players.

It has been left to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to represent the group of players at the top of the men's game.

Both were in action on Wednesday. Murray was on dominant form, serving accurately and fast and bamboozling opponent Arnaud Clement with his choice of shots. Clement's game repeatedly cracked under the pressure and Murray won 6-2, 6-3. Djokovic, on the other hand, struggled against Jan Hernych before clinching the match 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

Earlier in the day centre court spectators had been thrilled by two marathon contests that delayed the start of the evening session by an hour. Marin Cilic beat Julien Benneteau 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, while Richard Gasquet defeated Simone Bolelli 6-7, 6-3, 7-6. Another great day's tennis at the Aviation Club, and all for just Dh50 a ticket.

Now let's hope the men's final serves up a memorable match on Saturday to end the fortnight on a high. Then sports lovers can start looking forward to next year's championships.

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