New Balls Please!

Tennis has really grown in popularity here in the last few years with more and more Emiratis and young people picking up racquets and really enjoying the sport.” Sheikha Shaikha bint Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan

The teenager had quite the experience with her recent stint as a ball girl at the sixth annual Sheikh Mohammed bin Saeed bin Hamdan Al Nahyan Tennis Tournament held at the Sea Palace in Al Bateen here in Abu Dhabi.

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The women only event, which included female only players, officials (this year flown over from Spain), staff and guests was centred around a private floodlit tennis court monitored by Hawk-Eye (yes, really like the one at Wimbledon and all the Grand Slams) the most advanced ball-tracking system in the world and the professional set-up which included a commentary box and a grandstand that accommodated two hundred spectators.
IMG_9030The two-week tournament, which is run in association with the national governing body for tennis and has the support of Tennis Emirates, was introduced to the capital in 2009 by Sheikha Shaikha bint Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan, a very keen player herself and a huge supporter of tennis in the region, to encourage Emirati women including members of the royal family to participate in the sport.

IMG_9027The tournament had three events including Women’s singles, Emirati Ladies doubles and Mixed Doubles (an Emirati lady with a western lady partner). Alongside the hawk-eye technology where competitors can challenge line calls like players on the professional tour, the court came alive before and after each match with pink spotlights and loud music. The ball girls and food/beverage servers were all clad in a catching matching outfits of silver and pink pleather paired with knee-high socks and were also on court dancers (all those dance lessons put to good use) as well as being in control of all the pink logo embossed tennis balls.

IMG_9031IMG_9023The final evening was a very grand affair and a culmination of the two weeks of matches, so also very competitive. Sheikha Shaikha played in the two thrilling finals and won both the Emirati Doubles and Mixed Doubles events picking up the trophies with her partners Kholoud Al Mehairbi and Lili Sarup respectively. The singles event was won the previous evening by Hania Kulieb and she was also runner-up with her partner in the Mixed Doubles.

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The trophy presentations were preceded by the closing ceremony which featured the ball girls dancing with large UAE flags. I was lucky enough to attend the pink themed tournament on two occasions which was sponsored this year by Graff Diamonds, Fortnum & Mason and Monreal London who all had pop-up shops at the event and Coca Cola also supported the event with personalised tournament glass bottles. 

IMG_9026IMG_9022We were treated to a fantastic spread between matches at the very luxurious pool house with an amazing painted doomed ceiling adjacent to the court, where a wide selection of food and drinks was served including tennis themed cookies. After the finals, a very decadent afternoon tea was served by Fortnum & Mason using their signature eau de nil blue and gold tea service. A great tournament for women’s tennis in the region and an amazing opportunity for the teenager and her friends to be involved in a one-of-kind event. I’m not going to lie, it was also a great opportunity for me to watch some tennis and enjoy a rare behind the scenes glimpse of a beautiful royal palace and the food was delicious too!

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First and last photos © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved. The remaining photos are used courtesy of smktennis