Each year the Al Habtoor Group Chairman hosts the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge – which has been running for 16 years. The tournament has kick started the careers of many well-known players… including former number one Jelena Janković. Joanna Andrews caught up with Jelana and Ukrainian tennis star Alexandr Dolgopolov on a recent visit to Dubai where they hosted a tennis clinic for young children at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa.
The Serbian tennis star has been a guest at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa several times since winning the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge (AHTC) in 2003. “The tournament was one of the great times for me and it will always stay in my memory. It was the beginning of my professional career,” she says. “When you win a tournament, it gives you great motivation to continue and you get more inspired to continue to work hard to win more tournaments.”
She adds, “I have great memories of coming here,” she adds. “I have known Mr. Al Habtoor for a few years; he is a great man and he offers great facilities. The Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa is a nice hotel with good facilities. I love training here for my tournaments.”
So what does she like about Dubai? “Everything,” she says with a smile. “I love the weather, I love the people. It is very relaxing, I enjoy pretty much everything!”
Since winning the AHTC she has played - and won - in many Grand Slam events including the US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon. She was ranked world no. 1 for seventeen consecutive weeks until she was overtaken by Serena Williams in 2009.
Janković, who is currently ranked 8th in the WTA ranking, recently advanced to the fourth round of the Australian Open. She has clocked up more than 500 wins to her name and has reached the singles finals of several Grand Slam events. In 2007, she became the first Serbian player to win a Grand Slam title when she won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with British partner Jamie Murray.
The Serb, who became number one junior in the world before she was 18, says she had many challenges to attain her dream to become a professional tennis player. She says it came to fruition with hard work, commitment and a lot of determination. “I came from Serbia, and we didn’t really have a tradition in tennis. I think no-one made it at the time, so it was an impossible task. But I think with hard work, with dedication and sacrifice I think you can achieve anything.”
She says her most memorable moment in her career was making it to world number 1, “actually finishing as the best player in the world, which was in Moscow. I was told I would finish the year as the number one player. That was a dream come true for me and a very, very special point in my career.”
But with success there was a lot of sacrifice, she says. “I had belief in myself and in my family and friends. It took many years - since I was a child I was training and trying to achieve my goal which I did when I was 23 years old.”
So, what advice does she have for budding young tennis players today? “It is important to always give your best, to have the passion for the sport, you have to love what you do and do it with a smile on your face and always strive after your dreams.”
Jelena Janković and Hungarian tennis pro Kyra Nagy were the first to set foot on the tennis court at the brand new Waldorf Astoria Dubai Palm Jumeirah ahead of the five star hotels’ grand opening. The well-known tennis pros played a friendly game at the court, which boasts spectacular views of the Palm Jumeirah and Arabian Gulf. The hotel, situated on the East Crescent of the iconic Palm Jumeirah, is the latest addition to the Al Habtoor Group portfolio.
Dolgopolov, who at the height of his career had an ATP World Ranking of 13, has won three Grand Slams in his career - two in the singles game and one in the men’s doubles.
Dolgopolov comes from a sporty family; his father was a professional tennis player for the Soviet team and his mother was a gymnast. “I was always around tennis,” he says. “It was pretty cool. I was at tennis tournaments from a very young age.”
His father, Oleksandr Dolgopolvo, coached Andrei Medvedev - Ukraine's most successful tennis player to date as well as world-famous names Andre Agassi, and Boris Becker.
Alexandr, or Alex, is known as one of the most charismatic players in professional tennis. Spanish pro Rafael Nadal once said, “He’s a crazy player… because you can expect everything… I know he can hit a winner from every place in the court.”
The Ukraine, who was born in 1988, says “My father just tried to teach me the shots that he knew. I was pretty small when I was 15 so I had to use all my shots to beat others. I grew up making those kinds of shots that most of the players didn’t use, so that’s how I got there.”
Success hasn’t come easy for Dolgopolov. He suffers from a hereditary disorder known as Gilbert's Syndrome, which causes fatigue, “You just need to deal with it,” he says. “When I feel bad I just need to play more aggressive and change my style a little bit, you get used to it. I adjust when needed, and try to fight and do my best.”
So what does he like most about Dubai? “It is a really good environment. The weather it is really nice, it is not too hot and not too humid like Miami. I have been here for three weeks and it didn’t rain once, so it is really good to prepare, plus there is a beach here!”