Announcer for the 2021 Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Andy Taylor recaps Malek Jaziri’s momentous Round-1 victory over “Lucky Loser” Norbert Gombos. Since capturing Arab Games Gold on this court in 2011, Malek had lost eight consecutive matches in Doha. Finally, ninth time was the charm. Late last night, Borna Coric pulled-out of the tournament with a shoulder injury, setting up today’s clash with Gombos.
Second meeting, first in six years.
These two met once before, in the first round of qualifying at the 2015 Monte Carlo Masters. Norbert Gombos emerged the victor, then qualified through to the main draw of a Masters-1000 event for the first time.
[WC] Malek Jaziri -262- (TUN) | Round-1 Announcer Introduction
Back in Doha for his 9th Qatar ExxonMobil Open, he is the most successful Tunisian player in the history of the ATP Tour. Ranked as high as World #42 – in 2018 he was on-fire, earning his first three top-10 victories – including a win over World #4 Marin Cilic en-route to his debut ATP Tour Final in Istanbul. He also reached the 2018 US Open Doubles Semifinals, becoming the first Grand Slam Semifinalist in his country’s history. Overall, he owns 8 ATP Challenger Tour Singles titles, is a 2-time Olympian – and in 2011, earned Singles Gold and Doubles Silver right here on center court at the Arab Games Doha. From Tunisia, please welcome Malek Jaziri.
- R1 — W — [LL] Norbert Gombos -95- (SVK) | Score: 6-2, 7-5
[LL] Norbert Gombos -95- (SVK) | Round-1 Announcer Introduction
This year’s #2 qualifying seed – yesterday, he was granted a spot in this year’s main draw after Borna Coric withdrew from the tournament with a shoulder injury. Ranked as high as World #80, he owns 7 Challenger Tour Singles, and is a 14-time Finalist. Last year, he earned several career-firsts when the season resumed from its pandemic suspension. In New York, he won his first Grand Slam main draw match at the US Open. Then at Roland Garros, reached Round-3 of Major for the first time. And at the Paris Masters, he upset World #14 David Goffin – and for the first time, reached the Round of 16 at Masters-1000 event. Today, he makes his Doha Center Court debut – From Slovakia, please welcome Norbert Gombos.
- R1 — L — [WC] Malek Jaziri -262- (TUN) | Score: 2-6, 5-7
- Q2 — L — Ramkumar Ramanathan -201- (IND) | Score: 3-6, 1-6
- Q1 — BYE
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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 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.