The men’s finals of the Dubai Tennis Championships will be played this evening at the Dubai Tennis Stadium. The tournament director, Salah Hussain Tahlak, however, seems not too excited about the finale.

By Pradeep Kumar

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Published: Sun 27 Feb 2005, 2:22 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 2:58 PM

“It really does not matter who wins the championships. The ultimate winner of this tournament is Dubai,” he told City Times, adding, “And we are proud of the winner”.

Tahlak and his team have worked hard to bring half of top 50 players in the men’s category for the championships. Similarly, most among world’s top 30 women players are also scheduled to play in Dubai for the women’s title starting on Monday. “Last three months before the tournament has been tough,” he said.

The hardwork has paid off. More than 32,000 spectators had witnessed the first three days play. “Andre Agassi told me that he has never played before such a sellout crowd in a first round match in his entire career,” a cheerful Tahlak said.

We caught up with Tahlak, who is also the Director of Corporate Communications, Dubai Duty Free, to know more on the efforts that has gone into making this grand tennis tournament.

Are you happy with the scheduling of the tournament in the ATP calendar?

Earlier, we used to have the Women’s Open (WTA) before the Men’s Open. This year, due to Davis Cup schedules, we have the men’s event before the women’s event. The new schedule has only helped us. More than anything else, it helped us to bring Andre Agassi to play in the championships. We have been trying to bring Agassi to play in the tournament since the last five years. Unfortunately, due to his prior commitments to other tournaments, he was not able to make it to Dubai.

Agassi had heard a lot about Dubai from players in the ATP circuit, and had himself wanted to play in the tournament. Every year, we have been only bettering the line-up of players. And I am sure we will continue to be so.

Does it take a lot of convincing for the top players to come play in Dubai?

It used to be, but no more. In the initial years of the tournament — 1993-94 — we had to do a lot of talking to the players. It used to be difficult convincing them. Today, Dubai has grown to be a brand by itself. And it is just not tennis players who want to come down to Dubai but all other professional sportspersons too.

Do you believe that the huge prize money at stake at the Dubai Tennis Championships is also a factor for most top players playing here?

Prize money is surely a factor. But it is certainly not the prize money alone (The total prize money offered at the Dubai Tennis Championships is a $975,000). The men’s event here has a gold status and the Women’s Open is a Tier II WTA event, which means there are crucial ATP points to be grabbed. No player would want to miss out on that.

Our success has a lot to do with our hospitality as well. As soon as they are arrive in Dubai, the players are accorded VIP status. Unlike many other tennis tournaments in the international circuit, we ensure that the player’s spouse and guest are given the same level of treatment, while they are here. We put up the top players in the magnificent Burj Al Arab, though it is not the official hotel of the championships. We want the players to have the best of experience while they are in Dubai

After all, while in Dubai, it is just not tennis alone. There is so much for the players to do in Dubai — shopping, leisure etc.

Roger Federer playing Andre Agassi on the helipad of Burj Al Arab, what was it all about?

It was a pre-planned event. Dubai Duty Free and Burj Al Arab had jointly organised it. I am glad it worked very well. Both the players were more than willing to play on the helipad, which is more than 200 metres above sea level. According to the ATP, this is an unparalleled PR effort in the history of ATP tournaments. More than the tournament, the exercise was a PR exercise for the brand, Dubai.

Did the players charge you for the PR stunt?

No, they did not.

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