“And to play Sofia Kenin, it’s…. number 22… Mihaela Buzărnescu.”
What an honour and a buzz to be asked to help draw the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, one of the key events on the WTA tour. A chance to meet superstars Eugenie Bouchard, Caroline Wozniacki and the amazingly courageous Petra Kvitová, now right back at the top of the (and her) game after the horrific December 2016 attack in her home by a burglar had left her future in doubt.
Two of the best weeks on the women’s and men’s circuit get underway today and the Dubai Duty Free management and staff are doing everything in their considerable power to ensure it’s a memorable and perfectly organised fortnight.
The draw was beamed live to the world via the WTA Facebook page and other media, while broadcast, online and print media were all on hand to ensure the news was spread immediately all around the world.
That’s just the start, Dubai Duty Free Executive Vice Chairman and CEO Colm McLoughlin told me (see full Podcast interview below), “We got audited figures back during the year from the WTA and ATP that… give us the value of the media coverage which Dubai has enjoyed as a result of the tennis. And last year it was US$920 million.”
This year, with nine of the top ten in the women’s game here (and 15 of the top 20), followed by an almost equally stellar line-up in the men’s, the figure is set to be even higher.
I’ll try to catch a little of the tennis today or tomorrow, though much of my time will be taken up by the day job, rather than my new sideline as a sports reporter. Today I’m touring DXB (the new branding of Dubai International) with HWH Investments, the dynamic local food & beverage operator run by Mustafa and Talha Al Hashimi. HWH is responsible for some of the best new concepts in airport F&B of recent times, including the stunning Nutella Café, Flour + Stone (a marvellous celebration of bread), and locally-inspired coffee house, S34 Gahwa Mezza Bar – DXB’s first Emirati restaurant.
Tonight I’m attending the annual Trade Partners’ Night of Kreol Group, the travel retail and domestic market brand powerhouse owned by the charismatic and effervescent Lal Arakulath (right). It promises to be a fun night at the Dubai Duty Free-owned Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, which is also the official hotel for the tennis – and my Moodie Davitt Report Interim Dubai Bureau, which I’ve managed to extend for a few days.
As I can see the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club from my hotel room, it seemed a pity not to go and play it. So on Friday, courtesy of former Dubai Duty Free President George Horan and Patrick Dorais, Director of Sales at local camel milk chocolate producer Al Nassma Chocolate, I managed to get 18 holes in.
George is as classy on the golf course as he is off it, and still retains an uncannily easy hurling-style swing that keeps him pretty much on the straight and narrow, and away from the water and sand of which there is about as much here as the Atlantic and Sahara combined.
He may have been a bit worried, however, about the damage to his local reputation caused by playing with two such legendarily underwhelming golfing talents. That could explain why his companions were signed in as Mr Noodie and Mr Dorby, respectively. While I am sure a state-of-the-art naturist publication would do well, I’m not quite ready to launch The Noodie Report yet. And besides, I’m worried about the dress code.
Patrick, perhaps befitting his profession, has a few humps to work out in his game, and on one occasion memorably managed to achieve the highly unlikely feat (pictured below) of hitting the ball backwards. Not very far backwards, mind you, but ingenious nonetheless. His expression as he tries to figure out where the ball has gone is about as priceless as all that publicity gained by Dubai Duty Free from the tennis.
Some of that publicity may be delayed a little today. Believe it or not, it’s pouring with rain this morning. Anyone who doesn’t believe in global warming should think again. But I’m sure it won’t last and we will be underway soon.
At every turn here at the superb Jumeirah Creekside Hotel you see some of the hottest stars in women’s tennis. It’s a reminder of the brilliance of Dubai Duty Free’s long-time strategy to use sport not only to market its own offer but the attractions of Dubai itself. Like many of the shots that will be played over the next fortnight here, it’s a winner.