TRACKING QATAR'S LAND­MARK SPORT­ING EVENTS

Qatar Today - - INSIDE THIS ISSUE - With in­puts from Udayan Nag

The year 2017 wit­nessed im­por­tant mile­stones for the coun­try's pre­mier ten­nis, golf and squash tour­na­ments.

Asif there was not enough at­ten­tion on Qatar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the cur­rent Gulf cri­sis has put the fo­cus back on the re­gion's sport­ing hub, al­beit for all the wrong rea­sons. Enough has been said in the past about the coun­try's sport­ing tra­di­tion; how­ever, what's easy to un­der­mine is the fact that things go back as early as the early '90s. The Qatar ExxonMo­bil Open (ten­nis), the Com­mer­cial Bank Qatar Masters ( golf ), and the Qatar Clas­sic (squash) reached land­mark mo­ments in 2017. While the ten­nis and squash tour­neys cel­e­brated 25 years, the in­au­gu­ral edi­tion of both tour­na­ments hav­ing be­ing held way back in 1992, the golf ex­trav­a­ganza was con­ducted for the 20th time this year. Here's a brief on the above-men­tioned events, their his­tory well en­grained in the coun­try's sport­ing legacy.

Qatar Clas­sic

We start with the Qatar Clas­sic squash tour­na­ment, the lat­est edi­tion of which was won by Mo­hamed El Shorbagy in Novem­ber this year. For­merly known as the Qatar In­ter­na­tional, the an­nual fix­ture has at­tracted the world's top men and women play­ers year af­ter year. With the Egyp­tians dom­i­nat­ing the scene on the men's cir­cuit over the last decade, it came as no sur­prise that El Shorbagy be­came the first player in the his­tory of the tour­na­ment to win the ti­tle three times, tak­ing ad­van­tage of de­fend­ing cham­pion and com­pa­triot Karim Ab­del Gawad's early exit.

Since be­ing re­named the Qatar

SINCE BE­ING RE­NAMED THE QATAR CLAS­SIC IN 2001, THERE HAS BEEN AN EGYP­TIAN WIN­NER ON SEVEN OUT OF NINE OC­CA­SIONS, WITH THE TOUR­NA­MENT NOT HELD IN '12 AND '14 BE­CAUSE OF THE WORLD CHAM­PI­ONSHIPS.

Clas­sic in 2001, there has been an Egyp­tian win­ner on seven out of nine oc­ca­sions, with the tour­na­ment not held in ‘12 and ‘14 be­cause of the World Cham­pi­onships. In­ter­est­ingly, there were two edi­tions of the event in ‘07 as there was no tour­na­ment in ‘06 be­cause Doha hosted the Asian Games that year. That's when the Egyp­tians re­ally came into their own, with Ramy Ashour lift­ing the tro­phy in April and Amr Sha­bana fol­low­ing suit in Oc­to­ber.

A mo­ment which seemed rather in­nocu­ous at the time ac­tu­ally turned Ashour's ti­tle clash against Aus­tralia's David Palmer on its head. Hav­ing lost the first game, Ashour de­cided to change his rac­quet in the all-im­por­tant sec­ond game. He struck the ball against the wall with his ‘newly ac­quired tool' for a few min­utes and that was all it took to break Palmer's mo­men­tum; Ashour ran away with the match in four games, the fi­nal score read­ing 8-11, 11-9, 11-9, 11-6.

Sha­bana, who had been knocked out in the early rounds of the com­pe­ti­tion on that oc­ca­sion, made sure that there were no slip-ups later that year. He beat Gre­gory Gaultier of France 11-4, 8-11, 11-6, 11-5 in the fi­nal. It was to be Sha­bana's sole Qatar Clas­sic ti­tle. Ashour, who has not com­peted in the tour­na­ment since 2011, has also not re­peated the feat he achieved 10 years ago.

One of the added at­trac­tions of the Qatar Clas­sic this year was that the to­tal prize money was in­creased to $165,000 from the ear­lier fig­ure of $150,000.

In fact, a cou­ple of years ago, 2009 cham­pion Nick Matthew com­mented: “About seven or eight years ago I made my break­through in Qatar and

ABOUT SEVEN OR EIGHT YEARS AGO I MADE MY BREAK­THROUGH IN QATAR AND WE USED TO GET PAID IN CASH. SO, I WENT STRAIGHT DOWN TO THE JEWELLER'S WHO SPON­SORED THE EVENT AND BOUGHT A BRAND NEW OMEGA WATCH.

NICK MATHEW 2009 Qatar Clas­sic Cham­pion

we used to get paid in cash (US dol­lars). So, I went straight down to the jeweller's who spon­sored the event and bought a brand new Omega watch. I handed them all the cash that I had, which was prob­a­bly about £3,000, and got quite a good deal as it was prob­a­bly a £5,000 watch. Nowa­days, it's much more pro­fes­sional and it all gets paid into your bank ac­count, which is prob­a­bly a good thing as we were all lethal with cash in those days. It was in one pocket and out the other.”

As far as the fairer sex is con­cerned, there is no get­ting past Malaysia's Ni­col Ann David, ar­guably the great­est woman player of all time. She might be past her prime now, but was in­vin­ci­ble more of­ten than not dur­ing her hey­day, and won the Qatar Clas­sic five times (April 2007, Oc­to­ber 2007, 08, 10, 11), which in­cluded three suc­ces­sive ti­tles. Aus­tralia's Natalie Grin­ham was at the re­ceiv­ing end of David's bril­liance three times in a row, which incidentally in­cluded the Malaysian's first three tour­na­ment wins on Qatari soil. David's last ti­tle here came in 2011 when she beat North­ern Ire­land's Madeline Perry in the fi­nal. There was a gap of three years be­fore the women's edi­tion of the tour­na­ment took place again. Laura Mas­saro of Eng­land came up trumps on that oc­ca­sion, beat­ing Nour El Sherbini of Egypt 11-8, 12-14, 11-9, 8-11, 11-9 in a nail­bit­ing fin­ish. How­ever, there has not been a ‘Qatar Clas­sic' in­volv­ing women since 2015.

Qatar ExxonMo­bil Open

The year 1993 wit­nessed the in­au­gu­ral edi­tion of the tour­na­ment (the Qatar To­tal Open for women has been held ev­ery year since 2001). The likes of Boris Becker, Ste­fan Ed­berg and Go­ran Ivani­se­vic stood out in the draw on that oc­ca­sion. The sum­mit clash went right down to the wire, with Becker get­ting the bet­ter of gi­ant-serv­ing Croat Ivani­se­vic 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-5. The Ger­man had ear­lier beaten Ed­berg in the last-four stage of the com­pe­ti­tion; it was to be his only ti­tle win in Qatar. The Becker-Ed­berg rivalry reached dizzy­ing heights dur­ing the three suc­ces­sive Wim­ble­don fi­nals from 1988-90. The pair clashed twice in Doha, dur­ing the semi-fi­nals in ‘93 and in the first round in ‘96, with Becker com­ing out on top on both

YOU CAN SEE THAT THERE IS A HIS­TORY TO THIS EVENT, AND THE PEO­PLE WHO ARE RUN­NING THE TOUR­NA­MENT OB­VI­OUSLY SHARE THE PAS­SION AND LOVE FOR THE SPORT.

NO­VAK DJOKOVIC 2017 ExxonMo­bil Open cham­pion

oc­ca­sions.

How­ever, Ed­berg who fea­tured reg­u­larly in the sea­son opener had his mo­ments as well, win­ning back-to-back ti­tles in 1994 and ‘95. ATP tour­na­ments in Asia were a rare com­mod­ity dur­ing those times, and the will­ing­ness for play­ers to travel to ‘non-Western' coun­tries was not some­thing that could be taken for granted. Cit­ing “mys­te­ri­ous dis­eases”, Ed­berg had in fact re­fused to travel to In­dia for Swe­den's Davis Cup tie against In­dia in ‘96.

The fact that he com­peted year af­ter year at the Qatar ExxonMo­bil Open does speak vol­umes for the event.

The tour­na­ment be­ing or­gan­ised in early Jan­uary makes it a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for play­ers, not only in terms of the weather but also be­cause it's treated as a pre­lude to the Aus­tralian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year. The tour­na­ment was made a part of the ATP World Tour 250 se­ries event cal­en­dar in 2009. The leg­endary Roger Fed­erer holds the record for win­ning the most num­ber of ti­tles (3) in Doha, while Bri­tain's Andy Mur­ray holds the dis­tinc­tion for the max­i­mum num­ber of fi­nal ap­pear­ances (2007, 2008, 2009, 2017), hav­ing tri­umphed on two of those oc­ca­sions – ‘08, ‘09. In­ter­est­ingly, Rafael Nadal, who was crowned cham­pion in 2014, also has four dou­bles ti­tles to his name.

Two-time de­fend­ing cham­pion No­vak Djokovic is a staunch sup­porter of the event and paid it the ul­ti­mate compliment last year when he said: “The con­di­tions for the play­ers in Doha are ter­rific. The ten­nis cen­tre is phe­nom­e­nal. You can see that there is a his­tory to this event, and the peo­ple who are run­ning the tour­na­ment ob­vi­ously share the pas­sion and love for the sport.”

And it's not just the play­ers who have taken a lik­ing to the tour­na­ment. Ten­nis an­nouncer Andy Tay­lor has been work­ing at the Qatar ExxonMo­bil Open and Qatar To­tal Open since 2014. “One of the ad­van­tages of the ten­nis tour­na­ments in Doha is that one can be much closer to the play­ers and thereby the ac­tion, which is not pos­si­ble in other places where gain­ing ac­cess to im­por­tant ar­eas might not be that easy,” he said ear­lier this year.

There have been enough tes­ti­mo­ni­als and de­vel­op­ments in the last 25 years to sug­gest that Qatar's prized ten­nis event has been a tremen­dous advertisement not just for the game but also for the en­tire na­tion, which has been as­so­ci­ated with this sport over three decades. And one thing's for sure: the Qatar ExxonMo­bil Open is here to stay and will be around for a long, long time to come.

ONE OF THE AD­VAN­TAGES OF THE TEN­NIS TOUR­NA­MENTS IN DOHA IS THAT ONE CAN BE MUCH CLOSER TO THE PLAY­ERS AND THEREBY THE AC­TION.

ANDY TAY­LOR Ten­nis An­nouncer

Com­mer­cial Bank Qatar Masters

Held at the Doha Golf Club since 1998, the Com­mer­cial Bank Qatar Masters has come a long way to be­come one of the most cel­e­brated golf tour­na­ments in the re­gion. The event is part of the European tour and is or­gan­ised ev­ery year to­wards the end of Jan­uary. The names as­so­ci­ated with it have be­come big­ger and big­ger over the years. The win­ners list in­cludes Adam Scott and Ernie Els, both ranked num­ber one in the world at cer­tain points of their ca­reers, and Ser­gio Gar­cia, ranked as high as num­ber two in the world in 2008. Wang Je­ung-hun of South Korea won the tour­na­ment this year. Mul­ti­ple win­ners in­clude Scott, Paul Lawrie and Bran­den Grace, who have won the tour­na­ment twice each. How­ever, in its 20-year his­tory, no player has ever de­fended the ti­tle won by him the pre­vi­ous year.

As the years have pro­gressed, play­ers have de­vel­oped a soft spot for the event. In fact, it has be­come a favourite of Thomas Bjørn (Den­mark), win­ner here in 2011.

“I re­mem­ber the early edi­tions of it. Ob­vi­ously it was new and we didn't know what to ex­pect. Golf in the whole re­gion was in its in­fancy,” says Bjørn.

“You come to Qatar now and it's just an amaz­ing de­vel­op­ment in such a short space of time. As a tour­na­ment, the weather's so good, the fa­cil­i­ties are nice, and ev­ery­thing here has just grown, grown and grown. This golf tour­na­ment now just sits so well with the golf play­ers and this whole three-week ‘desert swing' blends to­gether so well.”

Speak­ing at the 20th an­niver­sary of the event, the Dane fur­ther said that there has been a great list of cham­pi­ons be­cause this run of events at­tracts a lot of top-class play­ers and they just want to get their sea­son started. “Top play­ers look to­wards the Masters and their prepa­ra­tion starts now. When you have a venue like this, it's such a good as­set for a tour­na­ment, be­cause it's such a good golf course. It asks a lot of ques­tions and top play­ers will al­ways look at that. That's why it sits well with top play­ers, and has great cham­pi­ons.”

Bjørn also added that along with the other golfers, when he first came here, it could never be imag­ined that Qatar would be host­ing the FIFA World Cup in the fu­ture.

“When we first came here, we thought it was so dif­fer­ent, but you could see the at­trac­tion and the po­ten­tial, and we've watched how Qatar has put it­self on the world map. When they host events, they do it so well.

“It's im­por­tant for Qatar to keep pro­duc­ing these world­class events, putting them­selves on the map and show­ing how well they do them, es­pe­cially in the lead-up to the World Cup.”

Echo­ing Bjørn's words, Lawrie, vic­to­ri­ous here in ‘99 and ‘12, in fact went a step fur­ther in prais­ing the course at the Doha Golf Club. “It is my favourite course. It is pretty much the same...some new tees are there. Over­all, the place is nearly the same. The top hasn't changed. Ob­vi­ously over the years, it (the tour­na­ment) has grown.”

It would prob­a­bly not be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that the Com­mer­cial Bank Qatar Masters has come of age, and has, along with the ten­nis, squash and other sport­ing fix­tures, played its part in mak­ing the coun­try one of the top sport­ing des­ti­na­tions in the world. The World Cup can wait, at least for the time be­ing

Egypt's Mo­hamed El Shorbagy won the Qatar Clas­sic tour­na­ment in 2013, '15 and '17.

(Photo: Udayan Nag)

Rafael Nadal at the Khal­ifa In­ter­na­tional Ten­nis and Squash Com­plex dur­ing the 2009 Qatar ExxonMo­bil Open.

(Photo: Udayan Nag)

Roger Fed­erer throws a ball into the crowd dur­ing the 2009 Qatar ExxonMo­bil Open.

(PHOTO: UDAYAN NAG)

BRI­TAIN'S ANDY MUR­RAY IN AC­TION DUR­ING THE 2009 QATAR EXXONMO­BIL OPEN. MUR­RAY HAS WON THE TI­TLE TWICE AND HAS BEEN THE RUN­NER-UP ON TWO OC­CA­SIONS.

Top: Aus­tralian Adam Scott is one of the few play­ers to have won the Com­mer­cial Bank Qatar Masters twice - '02 and '08.

(Photo: Udayan Nag)

Bot­tom: Retief Goosen of South Africa with the win­ners tro­phy in 2007.

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