Fans in the UAE could not have hoped for a better exhibition of tennis as the legendary Williams sisters - Serena and Venus - will kick off the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (Dec. 27-29) in Abu Dhabi.
The sisters, who share 30 Grand Slams singles titles between them and 14 slams in doubles as a team, will lock horns in what will be the prologue to the men's event that has attracted Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Karen Khachanov, Kevin Anderson and Hyeon Chung.
And Vickie Gunnarsson, event director, couldn't hide her joy when asked about the secret behind this exhibition tennis tournament's success in attracting the big stars every year.
"I think the Mubadala World Tennis Championship has over the years established itself as the kick-off tournament to the Australian Open swing and it has become very popular among the players," Gunnarsson told Khaleej Times.
"We have really done a great job to attract the best players over the years. It's something we are very proud of." Remarkably, four of the top 10 players in the ATP rankings will play in the season opener in Abu Dhabi. "Again, this year, we have an excellent line-up. We have currently five of the players from the ATP top 11. So it's a really strong line-up once again," Gunnarsson said.
"We have four Grand Slam champion if you include the two women - Venus and Serena. So we have a total of 61 Grand Slams wins in the line-up!"
Serena (23), Nadal (17), Djokovic (14) and Venus (7) indeed share 61 Slams between them.
And the opener between Serena and Venus has the fans brimming with expectations.
The only time the UAE witnessed this iconic on-court sibling rivalry was in 2009 when Venus beat Serena 6-1 2-6 7-6 (7/3) in a dramatic three-setter at the Dubai Tennis Championships.
"Venus-Serena will be the kick off match on Day One," Gunnarsson said. "It's the first time they will be playing each other in Abu Dhabi. So we are very excited about that!" Apart from the tennis action on the court, fans will also get a chance to meet their heroes in the Fan Village.
"Venus will be doing activities at the Fan Village on the first day. In fact, all players will be spending time in community and giving back. Every year we try to raise the bar and the spectator experience."
Gunnarsson then revealed why Mubadala World Tennis Championship is unlikely to become an official tournament in the next few years. "There have been discussions, but right now the current format works really well for Abu Dhabi," Gunnarsson said.
"And the players spend more time with the fans, more so than any other tournaments internationally. These players are very available for fans because we have just two-three matches per day. So they have more time to give back. And that works extremely well for Abu Dhabi.
"So we focus on that right now and we have been able to attract lot of great players to really put on a good show for the fans. And that's the key priority today," she added.
"Should it change in the future? It's another story, but right now we are focusing on one event at a time."
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