IT IS THAT time of the year when all roads lead to Khalifa International Tennis Complex for the Qatar ExxonMobil Open.
The tournament, celebrating its 25th anniversary, has witnessed an exponential growth in stature ever since German poster boy Boris Becker lifted the trophy after beating Goran Ivanisevic in the final of the inaugural edition way back in 1993.
When the New Year dawns, top players flock to Doha for the highest-prize money ATP World Tour 250 Series event and this year is no different, with world’s leading lights Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic heading the star cast.
The past winners include legends like Becker, Stefan Edberg, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Djokovic, and that bears testimony to the quality of the field.
The event has seen some stunning upsets — be it the current Tournament Director Karim Alami shocking the then world No.1 Pete Sampras in the opening round of 1994 edition or Ivo Karlovic defeating Djokovic in the quarterfinal in 2015.
One of the main reasons why players opt for Doha as their season opener is the resemblance of the surface to that of the Australian Open.
“This has always been a very important tournament on the ATP calendar. Doha provides the perfect weather at this time of the year for players from Europe where it’s very cold. And the surface is the same as Australia,” said Qatar Tennis Federation (QTF) President Nasser Ghanem Al Kholaifi.
The venue, inaugurated by the Father Emir HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani with a capacity of 4,500 seats, has undergone a lot of transformation.
It was enhanced to 7,000 seats in 2008 and last week title sponsor and energy giants ExxonMobil renewed its tie-up with the QTF for another three years.
Currently, the venue has a Centre Court, four outside fields and 20 practice ones, making it an ideal setting for one of the best events on the ATP World Tour stage as endorsed by defending champion Djokovic.
“It’s for the third time in a row that I’m starting the season in Doha. The tournament was organised for the first time in 1993. So it already has a long culture and tradition of tennis. This country in general invests a lot in sports. It sees sports as one of the most important and greatest values in life, and that’s how they teach their children to grow up, that’s great,” the world No.2 said.
Murray and Djokovic officially launched the 2017 ATP World Tour season by hitting the balls on a specially-constructed elevated court at the Museum of Islamic Art against the backdrop of the Doha skyline.
A dream final between the duo would be the perfect way to commemorate a quarter of a century since ATP’s creme de la creme started making Doha their first stop on the calendar.