Tickets are now on sale for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis championships. Which is the perfect excuse for me to look back at my own experiences at the tournament last year.
DDFT has been on my wishlist ever since I arrived, but it was only in 2019 that the Tennis Gods I’d been worshipping for most of my life smiled on me.
Gael Monfils at the quarterfinals of the DDFT in 2019
And now I should warn you that I am about to indulge in a little nostalgia, so if you’d rather not read it, go straight to the end of the italicized effusion below:
Attending the tournament last year was the culmination of a lifetime of tennis fandom. But how did it start? I believe I know the exact moment, though not the day: my coup de foudre was delivered in 1984, the day my mother brought home a coffee table book titled ‘The Wills Book of Excellence in Tennis’. Any purchase in those days was a luxury, but a glossy book full of pictures of tennis players? We were convinced that this was a special world that we were now privy to.
Our small town had very few TV sets at that time, but it did boast a lovely golf course and eight well-maintained competition-quality grass courts, a legacy of the British Raj. My interest was cemented by John McEnroe’s precipitous decline shortly after: my mother was a fan, and something about the drama of those days when the love-struck former world number one raged on the court, looking shell-shocked, appealed to both my sister and me. That year, we watched Boris Becker win his first Wimbledon. Both my sister and I instinctively disliked the German, but my hero’s star was on the ascent too, unbeknownst to me.
Every year after this, my mother, sister and I would make a pilgrimage to one of our neighbours with a television set, to watch the Wimbledon men’s and women’s semis and finals. This was all our one TV station would show, with interruptions for the news or other popular programmes. Not much else of interest was on TV in any case. As time went by, we added the French Open to our roster, though the Australian (was it even televised?) and the US (too early in the morning) eluded us. Those we awaited news of on the radio or in the paper.
My obsession with tennis peaked during the Edberg years, or perhaps I should say my Edberg years, as they truly were. From 1990 (when he won his second Wimbledon) to ‘96 (his last year on the tour), I watched every match I could (the arrival of ESPN and Star Sports helped) listened to every BBC sports bulletin I could, read every tennis article I laid my hands on, scoured secondhand sellers for old sports mags, covered my wall in posters, made scrapbooks and scribbled Edberg “content” in my diary every day. News was hard to come by in a way kids who follow celebs on social media wouldn’t get. But one stuck at it.
I had been a fan of Edberg before, but 1990 was the year I became a teenager, and I was perhaps casting around for a role model. There was nothing romantic about my fancy, it was simple hero-worship. My obsession with tennis in general and Edberg in particular changed my life in other ways too. I read some amazing sports journalism, mostly in the Sportsworld or Time and that shaped my own desire to write in a style that more accessible and more provocative than anything I’d been reading till then. I started watching more sports, things that hadn’t been on TV in my childhood. League football. Ice hockey. Snooker. I caught news bulletins while waiting for the sports news to come on. The soundtrack to my last years in school include the Gorbachev coup and the war in Bosnia. I heard promos for music programmes of all sorts and added those to my daily listening and viewing too.
I watched less and less after Edberg retired. I graduated college, found a job, fell in love, married, had kids. Life, as they said, happened. Besides, I hated Pete Sampras. Irrationally. (See Boris Becker, above). But once I emerged from under my rock in the late 2000s and began to enjoy the dominance of young Mr. Federer, a self-avowed fan, like me, of Stefan Edberg, my interest began to pick up again, though in a much more casual fashion. And that journey came full circle when my husband and I sat down to cheer Roger Federer in Feb 2019.
About the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
Now, on to business. Hope these observations (admittedly random) are helpful…
- DDTF runs across two weeks. The first week is devoted to the women’s tournament and is called the Women’s Week. This is followed by the men’s tournament
Roger Federer is one of the main draws at the tournament every year
- This year, Women’s Week is from Feb 17-22, and the men’s event, from Feb 24-29.
- Unlike ATP and WTA events in other countries, the final is on a Saturday to align with the local weekend.
- Tickets go on sale in mid Jan. This is generally announced on the tournament’s social media. (Psst…2020 tickets are on sale now)
- Prices range from AED 55 for early rounds to AED 415 for the finals. These are the basic grandstand tickets.
- The basic grandstand tickets are more than adequate, so you’ll be fine even if you can’t spring for the more expensive VIP seats. The stadium is small, and the VIP seats are only about 3 rows deep anyway. Simply get there sufficiently early and make your way to the seats that are right behind the VIP row if you can. We were in fact, just five rows away from the court.
- The entrances to the stadium are about halfway up the grandstand area. We sat closer to the baseline, so we could see the players up close as they served.
- A ticket is for the entire day, so you get to see all matches on Centre Court once you purchase it. There are breaks between matches of course
Stefanos Tsitsipas played the standout match of the day
- When we went in Feb 2019, we opted to go on quarterfinals day. This was based on a complex calculation: Cost of tickets divided by the probability of a late-career Fedex making it to the quarters vs the semis. As it so happened, oh ye of little faith (us), he won the tournament, but we didn’t want to take chances.
- Our quarterfinals day ticket allowed us to see all 4 matches. This included Gael Monfils vs Ricardas Berankis; Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Hubert Hurkacs; Roger Federer vs Marton Fucsovics; Borna Coric vs Nikoloz Basilashvili, in that order. We did not stay for the last match, as it was well past 10 then and we were exhausted.
- Quarterfinals day started at 3 PM. As doors were supposed to open an hour before the match starts, we got there at 1.30. Unfortunately, we were not allowed in till close to 3 PM. We couldn’t tell if this was a one-off or a regular occurrence, but it meant a long wait in the afternoon – and it was pretty hot so not pleasant. I would still recommend getting in early, because a crowd tends to form outside the gate, and the earlier you are, the more likely you are to get a headstart on picking the best seats.
- You can buy snacks, beer or water in the stadium. The stalls and toilets are a few levels above the court.
- You will only be permitted to get up from your seats during changeovers. If the game resumes before you’re back in your seat, you’ll have to wait till the next changeover. But you can watch while you wait, so it’s all good.
- Talking of buying water, for some reason they give you the bottle with the cap off. This meant I couldn’t tuck it under my arm as usual and had to walk down with a snack in one hand and the water bottle in the other. Not an easy feat while wearing a tennis-esque short skater dress on a windy day.
Even the rain delay was fun to experience!
- This was one of the rare rainy weeks in the city. There were a couple of rain delays including one during the Fedex match, much to our dismay. But then again, what’s a tennis match without a rain delay?
- The best match from the ones we watched was one featuring Stefanos Tsitsipas; his talent we could see, was phenomenal. Later, over the course of the year, his performance was a bit disappointing, but then he won the ATP Masters a couple of months ago. Federer’s match was actually less interesting, he did just enough to win against someone who played fairly error-free, defensive tennis. Tsitsipas’ game was much more entertaining, and he was an absolute delight to watch when he was on song.
- At the risk of stating the obvious, televised matches can’t match up to the feeling of being courtside; the pace, power, spin are so much more obvious in person.
All eyes – human and digital – on Federer
- The fan hysteria during Fedex’s match was unbelievable. Lots of screaming, yelling and fawning. We could tell he was very aware of it, but an expert at shutting it out. We didn’t fare as well, and couldn’t quite shut out the guy opposite going ‘Let’s go rawger’ every 3 minutes. The chap next to us who was comatose on his phone for most of the exciting Tsitsipas match suddenly sprang to life when Fedex appeared, selfieing, instagramming and snapchatting as though his life depended on it.
- If you don’t quite feel like sitting through a day full of matches, the venue is part of a complex that includes Irish Village, once the most popular watering hole in Dubai. Even if you don’t buy tickets to any of the matches, you can hang around, maybe watch stuff on the outside courts, or possibly catch glimpses of the players.
At the Village
- Oh and finally, the DDFT announced the other day that Novak Djokovic was going to participate this year.