Women’s tennis continues to strengthen its foothold in the Mena region with the announcement of a new WTA 500-level tournament set to take place in Abu Dhabi next month.
The introduction of the event, to be held February 5-12, means there will be three consecutive weeks of WTA tennis taking place in the Gulf, with the Qatar Open and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships scheduled for February 13 to 18, and February 19 to 25 respectively.
The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open is owned by industry giants IMG, who help run the Mubadala World Tennis Championship under Flash’s ownership each December at Zayed Sports City.
Last autumn, a WTA 250 event debuted in Monastir, Tunisia, with its sanction also owned by IMG but leased out to the Tunisian Tennis Federation.
The new Abu Dhabi tournament means there are now five tournaments on the WTA calendar taking place in the Mena region, which has seen a surge in the popularity of women’s tennis thanks to the rousing success of Tunisian world No 2 Ons Jabeur and Egypt’s first-ever top-50 player Mayar Sherif.
Jabeur, who made her second Mubadala World Tennis Championship appearance last month, will return to the capital for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Open.
“It means a lot to me to see the WTA have a stronger presence in the Middle East and North Africa,” Jabeur, 28, told The National.
“Seeing how the Arab region is growing and evolving makes me really happy. Hopefully this could show the new generation how everything is possible and could introduce them more to tennis and give them more opportunities. It’s really inspiring for me to witness and to be part of.”
This isn’t the first time Abu Dhabi has hosted a WTA tournament. In 2021, the emirate stepped up to host a one-off event – behind closed doors – to kick off the season when the pandemic caused disruption to normal scheduling.
The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, though, is set to be an annual tournament staged at the International Tennis Complex at Zayed Sports City.
“The Mena region has played an integral role in WTA’s legacy of giving women across the globe the opportunity to compete at the highest level,” WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon told The National.
“Since 2001, its representation and growth throughout the Tour has not only paved a visible pathway for future generations of Arab athletes, but also diversified the sporting landscape along the way.”
Jabeur has been making history for Tunisia, North Africa and the Arab world ever since she won the Roland Garros junior tournament back in 2011. Last year, she became the first African woman and first Arab player in the Open era to reach a Grand Slam final when she placed runner-up at both Wimbledon and the US Open.
The highest-ranked African woman in history, Jabeur has broken records and barriers every step of the way and Sherif – Egypt’s first-ever WTA title winner – is looking to follow in her footsteps.
“As athletes from this region see continued success, so does the marketability of women’s tennis,” added Simon.
“In celebrating the 50th anniversary of the WTA this year, we’re reminded how fortunate we are to embrace new events and regions around the world as it allows us to nurture future generations of talent and fans.
“The Middle East has equipped the WTA with great support for decades and its presence continues to influence further growth throughout the Arab world.”
More players will be announced in due course but a strong field can be expected given the practicality of having a three-week Middle East swing that allows players to compete in similar conditions with minimal travel in between.