This UAE resident has attended Dubai Tennis for 32 years, as an official and fan

Arora, a retired engineer, will complete 50 years as a UAE resident in August this year


Rituraj Borkakoty

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Sharad Arora during the first semifinal at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. — Photo by Rituraj Borkakoty
Sharad Arora during the first semifinal at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. — Photo by Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Mon 4 Mar 2024, 10:23 AM

Sharad Arora, a 74-year-old Indian expat, walks gingerly at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium. Age seems to have slowly started to impact the pace of this septuagenarian man.

But it has no bearing on his enthusiasm for tennis.

His eyes sparkle like a child in a candy shop when you ask him about one of Dubai’s most iconic sporting events.

Arora has reasons to be elated every February when the annual tennis carnival begins in the heart of the picturesque Irish Village.

This UAE resident has attended every edition of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships since the tournament started in 1993.

Arora also has played a part in the glorious success of this tennis tournament.

“I have worked in this tournament as a line official until about six years ago. Even my two daughters (Kavita and Supriya) were ball kids here for about five years. Now I attend the matches as a spectator,” Arora said.

Remarkably, Arora, a retired engineer, will complete 50 years as a UAE resident in August this year.

“I arrived here on August 6, 1974. It was a very different world, you know, deserts all over and we used to carry our passports when we needed to go to Abu Dhabi,” he recalled.

A former state-level player in India, Arora also played tennis in the UAE for many years.

He still remembers a tennis tournament in the 1980s at the Al Nasr club that brought some of the biggest names in the sport.

But it was in 1993 that top-tier tennis began to take shape in the UAE when the Dubai Duty Free started the ATP tournament.

“This tournament brought the biggest stars to Dubai. You know players like Goran Ivanisevic, Andre Agassi and then Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, and Jennifer Capriati after the women’s started in 2001. And I got to officiate in many of their matches, it was amazing,” he said.

“Those players were our idols, we only saw them on TV. I had never imagined that in my life that I could be on the same court as them. It was a dream come true really.”

Arora cannot imagine his life without this tennis championship.

“When I enter the stadium, I feel at home, I feel very good, very positive, very passionate,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter where I am, it can be anywhere in the world, but during this time of the year, I always return to Dubai for this tournament.

“It has become a part of my life. I have never missed this event, not even a single year. Right from 1993 when it started.”

Arora, who was trained as a line official by senior Dubai-based Egyptian match official Hany El Khafief, credits Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, for the success of the tournament.

“Mr Colm invites me to attend the event every year. He is a very kindhearted person, I give him all the credit for developing this tournament and developing tennis in the UAE,” he said.

Arora was also deeply touched by Andrey Rublev even as the Russian player was disqualified from the tournament for unsportsmanlike conduct during the first semifinal.

“What happened was sad,” he said of Rublev who was defaulted for shouting at a line-man over a call.

Andrey Rublev takes a selfie with Arora. — Supplied photo
Andrey Rublev takes a selfie with Arora. — Supplied photo

“We must not forget that players are also human, they can make mistakes. But I can tell you that Rublev is a very nice person. He is a gentleman, he spends hours giving autographs to every child, and every fan.

“The other day I was waiting for a selfie with him, but there were too many people, I was in no position to get that, he noticed it, asked me for my phone and took the selfie for me. That was so sweet of him. I will never forget that gesture.”

Arora hoped that Rublev would soon bounce back from the setback.

“He is a very good player and a very good human being. Things can happen sometimes. Look, tennis once had players like (John) McEnroe and Ilie Nastase, they were wizards of the game, they played like champions and they knew all the rules of the game. The umpires were scared of them. They were such colourful characters,” he said.

The sport and those iconic players made such an impact on Arora that he stays back at the stadium until midnight during the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

“I watch all matches, even the doubles and stay back until midnight for late matches to finish,” he said.

“I have done that for all these years and I have enjoyed every moment of it.”


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