THE Qatar ExxonMobil Open, celebrating 25 years of existence, has made a name for itself with its star-studded field, sheer quality and big prize money. The season opener, inaugurated by the Father Emir HH Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in 1993, has been going from strength to strength and has boosted the Qatar Tennis Federation’s (QTF) profile.
Ace players have always made a beeline for Qatar, given its stature as a season opener. Indeed, it has enabled many of them to gain confidence for on-field exploits throughout the year. Boris Becker, who won the inaugural edition, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, to name but a few, have all praised the tournament’s quality and QTF’s organisational efficiency.
However, I’m disappointed that an event of such big magnitude hasn’t helped much in terms of developing the sport in our country. Not a single Qatari player, with the exception of present QTF President Nasser Ghanem Al Kholaifi and Sultan Khalfan who’ve matched their wits at the Qatar Open as wild cards, has made it considerably big.
The present crop, led by Shannan brothers Moussa and Mubarak, could’ve performed far better had they moved on the right track. And there’s no better occasion for the QTF than the Qatar Open’s jubilee edition to have a rethink on its policies and introduce a broad range of initiatives.
As in other successful nations, grass-roots development is the key to promote the game in Qatar. It should start right at schools and clubs, which must be tasked with spotting talents and grooming them.
The clubs should also resume their age-group programmes. Tennis is included in the Qatar Olympic Committee’s Schools Olympic Programme, but that isn’t enough. The QTF should organise more championships, thus providing our young players with platforms to perform.
I recall the days when we had a wider player pool and more tournaments, like the Qatar League and Emir’s Cup. There was a sound system in place, players attended camps and they had rankings too.
We must also have more indoor facilities, so that more and more boys and girls will take up the sport.