Announcer for the 2021 Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Andy Taylor recaps Alexander Bublik’s Round-1 victory over qualifier Ramkumar Ramanathan. The match ended on a Bublik underhand serve — with choice words between the two as they returned to their benches. Sasha wasn’t fond of Ramkumar’s “volume” during points and teased the Indian before the match – accusing him of hiding from the tournament referee. Ramanathan found Bublik’s “flamboyance” irritating, arrogant and disrespectful.
First meeting between these two players
Alexander Bublik -44- (KAZ) | Round-1 Announcer Introduction
A human highlight-reel with a blistering serve, he is no stranger to success in Doha. Five years ago – at just 18-years-old (ranked outside the top-700) – he captured first Singles title at the Qatar F2 Futures. Today, he returns as the World #44, after an extraordinary six months. In September, he defeated World #9 Gael Monfils in the opening round of the French Open. During week-1 of the new season – he reached his 3rd ATP Tour Final in Antalya, taking-out World #10 Matteo Berrettini in the Quarterfinals. Just 8-days-ago, he reached his 4th career Final in Singapore. And last week in Rotterdam, upset World #7 and US Open Finalist Alexander Zverev in straight sets. Competing in his second Qatar ExxonMobil Open – From Kazakhstan, Alexander Bublik.
- R1 — W — [Q] Ramkumar Ramanathan -201- (IND) | Score: 6-4, 6-2
[Q] Ramkumar Ramanathan -201- (IND) | Round-1 Announcer Introduction
Making his Qatar ExxonMobil Open debut – over the weekend, he defeated top-shelf doubles talent Frederik Nielsen and Slovakia’s Norbert Gombos to qualify for this year’s main draw. But this is not his first trip to Doha. Back in January, he reached Round-2 of Australian Open qualifying on these courts – and in 2016, captured back-to-back Futures titles here at Khalifa. He’s a 5-time Challenger Tour Finalist, reached his first ATP Tour-level Final at the 2018 Hall of Fame Open in Newport – and in 2017, earned the biggest win of his career on the grass in Antalya – upsetting World #8 Dominic Thiem to reach the Quarterfinals. From India, please welcome Ramkumar Ramanathan.
- R1 — L — Alexander Bublik -44- (KAZ) | Score: 4-6, 2-6
- Q2 — W — Norbert Gombos -95- (SVK) | Score: 6-3, 6-1
- Q1 — W — [Alt] Frederik Nielsen -NR- (DEN) | Score: 6-4, 6-1
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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 typically happens 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.