Open Tennis and Qatar’s remarkable sporting upsurge


The all too short off season on the professional tennis circuit is due to end soon with the Abu Dhabi Invitational event, followed by the popular Qatar Open ATP event. The Qatar Open is now in its twentieth year of existence and could be termed the blue riband of the 250 series of tournaments on the world tour.
When the ATP came over to Doha to evaluate its ability to host an ATP event, they were nonplussed to see the location, a barren strip of desert not far from the Doha Corniche. But they were assured that come January, the facility would be ready for holding the biggest tennis event ever held in the Gulf. Work started round the clock and one of the best facilities in the world was ready for action, not only for tennis but also a state of the art squash center.
The first two years, the Qatar Open earned tournament of the year honours. This was made possible by the enthusiastic efforts of the Qatar Tennis Federation as well as the large expat community. Ever since that auspicious beginning, the event has gone from strength to strength, with the end of year Women’s Masters also held there, in addition to many world squash events.
It would be safe to say, that following the success of the Qatar Open, the flood gates of international sport in Qatar were laid open. The Asian Games were held here and the football World Cup is due to be held in 2020, amid fears that the extreme heat of Doha might be too much for the football stars of the colder climes. But Qatar has sought to allay these fears through the proposed use of ground breaking technologies that would cool the atmosphere in the stadia.
Other sports that have found a home in Doha are golf, cycling, motor sport and athletics, among others. With limitless resources under the benevolent patronage of the Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Qatari sport is going from strength to strength.
This year’s Qatar Open marks the reemergence of Rafael Nadal on the ATP Tour. Ever since his early round loss at Wimbledon, Nadal has not played a tennis match. It will be interesting to see how well he does, following a warm up appearance at the Abu Dhabi Expo.
Hard courts are not Nadal’s favourite surface. They impose too much stress on his fragile knees and constantly threaten to derail his tennis career. But knowing Nadal, he will not step onto the court unless he is fully fit. Other top players entered are David Ferrer, coming off his best season ever and ranked 5, 10th ranked Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, Nikolai Davydenko, Victor Troicki, Mikhail Youzhny and Phillip Kohlschreiber, among a host of other world class players.
In cricket, India gained a modicum of consolation after their Test series loss to England, by running away with the first T20 international. An inspiring performance with bat and ball by Test discard Yuvraj Singh, paved the way for the facile win. But India’s performance or lack of it, in the Test series, does not bid well for their future in the classical form of the game. India has always had good batsmen and the current emerging batters look competent, with Kohli a future star in the making. But the retirement of top players like Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly has left a void that will take some filling. Of particular concern is the form of master batsman Sachin Tendulkar. Although Tendulkar made seventy odd runs in one innings, he failed in the rest, with his technique looking out of sorts. The gap between pad continued to increase and bowlers like Anderson looked increasingly confident of their chances of getting him out.
Tendulkar: storied career, but no game changer: Sachin Tendulkar has now represented India through the last four decades. His has been a storied career, free of controversy, aided by his humble unassuming personality. Sachin has scored a hundred international hundreds and the most international runs of any cricketer. Sachin seems to have discovered early in his career that the only way for him was to score runs in his own style, regardless of the match situation. Consequently it is hard to pinpoint many game-changing innings coming from his bat, like the Dravid-Laxman partnership that defeated Australia.
Time running out on the icon: Rahul Dravid with his obduracy, Laxman with his ability to score big hundreds when needed and last but not least, the virtuosity of Virendar Sehwag have more to show in the shape of match winning or game changing performances. Some statistician will, inevitably come up with figures to counter this statement, but this is the general impression one gets.
Sachin Tendulkar is too much of a cricketing icon in the Indian public eye to be dropped from the team very easily. Eventually, he will have to decide when his eyes and his technique are no longer able to cope with the questions that the world’s fast bowlers continue to ask off him. Perhaps he does not now see the ball early enough coming out of the bowler’s hand. Maybe he is thinking too much and not playing instinctively. But regardless, he looks to be a pale shadow of his former self. It would be all to the good if Sachin Tendulkar decided to call it a day while he is still near the top. And that day is nigh.
Time running out on Afridi: India next take on Pakistan in an ODI/T20 series in India. Shahid Afridi has been dropped from the ODI side, perhaps for the first time. Whether he is recalled is a moot point, but the sands of time are also running out for the mercurial all rounder. His batting touch has completely deserted him and his incisive bowling has also lost its edge. Some encouraging performances in the practice matches may have changed the selectors’ mind, but the fact remains that time waits for no one. The next series may be crucial to Shahid Afridi’s future prospects. He would also be well advised to call it a day while near the top.