Qatar outline ambitious plans for tennis future
Nasser Al Khelaifi, the president of the Qatar Tennis Federation, revealed plans for the construction of a new tennis stadium in Doha, in efforts to boost the country’s chances of hosting bigger and more prestigious tennis events in the future.
Off the heels of the 21st edition of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open ATP event, Al Khelaifi, who is also the president of Ligue 1 football club Paris St-Germain and is the director of media giants Al Jazeera Sports, says he has high hopes for tennis in Qatar.
“I am wishing that the Qatar Tennis Federation can host the most important championships in tennis,” says Al Khelaifi. “Our tournament, although it is a 250-points tournament, the prize money and the attendance of players (show it) is more than tournaments in the 500 series.
“We are doing everything to make it one of the best tournaments in the world. Today it offers the highest prize money in terms of the (ATP World Tour) 250 events. It’s not just prize money but players also love it.
"Rafa, he loves this tournament because we are treating the players like we want them to feel like they are at home. That’s how we are as Qatar people. We welcome everybody in Qatar and love to have everybody to let them feel like they are at home. This is very, very important to us.
“Also the QTF has finished the design of a new stadium, and the stadium will be ready in just three or four years.”
For the first time in the tournament’s history, two Qatari youngsters were given wildcards to the main draw, Jabor Mutawa and Mousa Shanan Zayed, and Al Khelaifi says this shows how the tournament has had a strong impact on local sport, and says his dream is to one day see Qatari nationals in the draw without the need for a wildcard.
He added: “I think today we have two Qatari players. There is a lot of Qatari players who love tennis in terms of exposure to it. The Qatari players now they come by themselves to play tennis. They come here, enjoying the tennis, now to tennis to become one of the most popular sport in Qatar.
“We have today for first time since 21 years we have two Qatari players playing at the same time, the same tournament, in the men’s draw. It’s true they needed wildcards. But we hope they are going to do better. Their participation in the tournament is a great success for the QTF, and we hope one day to have one Qatari player play in the men’s draw without wildcard. “This is my dream, and we are keeping this as our objective. We didn’t do it as players so I hope we are doing it today as organisers.”
Box office players like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have missed the Doha event for the first time in years and Al Khelaifi says they have been dearly missed but was happy to see that the ticket sales were not affected by their absence.
He does however wish the tournament had a more favourable date in the tennis calendar, rather than being the first week of the year. He says: “I think of course (December) 31st is not really the date that we prefer, to be honest, but it’s not in our hands, as you know, the calendar is from the ATP, and we respect that. We cannot change it. It’s not in our hands.”
Meanwhile Qatar ExxonMobil Open tournament director, Karim Alami, says they hope their tournament can become a Masters 1000 event in the future. “We want this tournament to be a 1000 event as soon as possible, yesterday if possible” said the Moroccan former world No25.
“I am aware that it’s difficult because the dates are very complicated and there aren’t weeks to buy in the calendar and the calendar has changed, meaning there is less time in the season. It’s complicated, but possible, yes.
"It’s not necessary to think about upgrading to a 500 event because we always have great players coming here. But we would love to host a bigger tournament, we’d love to host the ATP World Tour Finals even though it’s very difficult to compete with London for that.
"We’ve hosted the WTA Championships for a few years. Whatever is available, give it to me, we would love to host it.”