First Tour-level match. Second meeting in Doha, Qatar
This was the first ATP Tour level meeting between these two talents. However, it wasn’t the first time Karatsev and Zayid clashed in Doha. In 2018, they battled in the 2nd-Round of the Qatar F4 Futures. Aslan Karatsev emerged the victor in a deciding-set, after Mubarak Shannan Zayid extended the match in a thrilling second-set tiebreak.
[WC] Aslan Karatsev -45- (RUS) | Round-1 Announcer Introduction
Two months ago, right here in Doha – for the first time, he qualified for a Major – earning three victories on these courts to earn a spot in the main draw of the Australian Open. What happened next – blew everyone’s mind. After a lockdown in Melbourne, he helped Russia capture the 2021 ATP Cup. Then, in his Grand Slam debut – he upset World #9 Diego Schwartzman in Round-3 – Felix Auger-Aliassime in Round-4 – then Grigor Dimitrov in the Quarters – becoming the first man in the Open Era to reach the Semifinals of a Major in his first Grand Slam main-draw appearance. Just 7-months-ago, he was the World #253. After Melbourne, he leapt to a career-high ranking of World #42. Mind blowing. Back in Doha where the magic began – from Russia, please welcome Aslan Karatsev.
- R1 — W — [WC] Mubarak Shannan Zayid -NR- (QAT) | Score: 6-4, 6-0
[WC] Mubarak Shannan Zayid -NR- (QAT) | Round-1 Announcer Introduction
Back in the main draw as a Wild Card – he is one of Doha’s top talents, and made his ATP Tour debut 6-years-ago at the 2016 Qatar ExxonMobil Open. He’s a 2-time Futures Quarterfinalist in Singles, a 5-time Doubles Semifinalist – and in 2018, reached his first Doubles Final at the Qatar F5 Futures. In pursuit of his first ATP Tour victory, he’s faced many of the sport’s top talents on these courts, including Karen Khachanov and Stefanos Tsitsipas. A proud member of Qatar’s Davis Cup Team, he owns a 25-15 overall record playing for his country. Competing in his 5th Qatar ExxonMobil Open – from Qatar, please welcome Mubarak Shannan Zayid.
- R1 — L — [WC] Aslan Karatsev -45- (RUS) | Score: 4-6, 0-6
2021 Qatar ExxonMobil Open: Different Date. Unusual Reality.
In 2021, due to the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, the ATP Tour rescheduled the Qatar ExxonMobil Open to take place the second week of March. A portion of the season typically carved-out for week-2 of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. When Indian Wells postponed its tournament due to COVID-19’s continued threat to the Coachella Valley, the Tour reinvented the 2021 calendar.
As a result, Delray Beach and Antalya hosted the season’s first events. Both ATP-250 tournaments, Delray is typically held in February – while Antalya is best-known for its grass event the week prior to Wimbledon. From there, Australian Open qualifiers played three rounds in Doha, while main-draw entrants traveled to Australia for two weeks of quarantine. Meanwhile, Tennis Australia moved the Australian Open to the second week of February, to accommodate the country’s strict pandemic protocols. Immediately following quarantine, Melbourne Park hosted several new lead-up tournaments along with the ATP Cup. After Oz, the Tour then staged five events over the next two weeks (Singapore-250, Cordoba-250, Montpellier-250, Rotterdam-500 and Buenos Aires-250), before Doha-250 and Montpellier-250 shared center stage on March 8th.
Doha: Back to a Week-1 Event in 2022
Provided there are no further set-backs with the global pandemic, next year the Qatar ExxonMobil Open should return to it’s week-1 position on the calendar. Like in 2020, it will launch the season alongside the ATP Cup, played in venues across Australia.
Coronavirus: Delivering a top-shelf international event responsibly
While the Qatar Tennis Federation allowed fans to attend the 2021 Qatar ExxonMobil Open; the QTF sold tickets at reduced capacity. All wore masks, encountered temperature checks upon arrival, and adhered to social-distancing guidelines – required to sit several seats apart.
Players, ATP staff and umpires lived in their own “bubble” at the Four Seasons. Meanwhile, tournament support, lines-people, ball persons and the announcer stayed in a separate “bubble” at Ezdan Palace. All underwent routine coronavirus testing and regular temperature checks. Everyone wore masks at all times (except players and umpires during competition). The locker-room was off-limits for the athletes until their match was on-deck, and none were allowed to shower on site. Every aspect of post-match recovery took place at the player hotel.
Pandemic Event Hosting: Champions adjust
From behind-the-scenes pandemic protocols to extreme “socially-distanced” announcer interviews and trophy presentations – the Qatar Tennis Federation and ATP Tour adhered to every science-guided precaution to ensure the safety of all involved. And by doing so, despite all of the obvious challenges, delivered another top-shelf experience for both players and fans on site and those watching around the world.
Hosting high-profile international events during a devastating pandemic is possible. That is, when organizers have the courage, compassion and ingenuity to reinvent the way things are done; when they have the flexibility and financial support to adjust expectation. And as we’ve all learned after one year of separation, isolation, anxiety and heart-break: the “escape” that televised sports provides is invaluable to mental health. A welcome distraction to a very un-welcome new reality.