Deep in the playing fields of
the Middle East over the next few months, there will be
some rare mammals lurking that have descended from the
disappearing breed of the superhuman variety.
Hunted to near extinction, these finely tuned specimens
are only usually encountered once in a generation and
are normally found in their natural habitats of Europe
and America. However, the dawn of 2004 will spark some
healthy new migratory patterns that will see the
sporting world's most sought after individuals all
perform in this region in the space of just two months.
And the good news for the region's hunters of sporting
excellence is that they can fix their sites on this
prime prey with ease like no other region in the world.
Never before has the Middle East seen such an influx of
sporting riches in such a short space of time. The hunt
for Tiger will happen at the same time as a "Fed Ex"
delivery comes in five different languages, closely
followed by the fastest man on four wheels, not to
mention a visit from Venus and the man with a golden
Tiger Woods will headline the much-heralded Dubai Desert
Classic from March 3-7 at the Emirates Golf Club and his
second visit to the region is expected to be just as
eventful as his debut here in 2001.
While Woods has dominated golf for the past seven years,
Wimbledon champion Roger Federer - aka the Federer
Express - is all set to do the same in tennis and the
multi-lingual Swiss star is already a firm Middle East
favourite following his win at the Dubai Duty Free Men's
Open last year.
And while world class tennis and golf have become annual
fixtures in Dubai and Qatar over the past decade, the
most eagerly anticipated sporting event ever to reach
these shores will take place in Bahrain.
Michael Schumacher will lead the Formula One circus
riding into town on April 4 and never before has the
region been so caught up in the buzz of a sporting
But the superhuman sports star venturing to the Middle
East is not only of the male variety. Venus Williams
will be headlining the Dubai Duty Free Women's Open from
And if that's not enough, one of the greatest
footballers in modern times, Gabriel Batistuta, can be
watched week-in week-out plying his trade in the Qatar
The pending arrival of these mega stars has lit up a
region which is no stranger to hosting world class
events, but the inclusion of sport's premium draws has
added extra spice to this year's calendar.
"The Middle East is no longer viewed as a black hole of
sport," said one leading Middle East sports promoter.
"In fact far from it. The region now hosts some of the
best sporting events to be found anywhere and the fact
that these big names will all be competing here in such
a short space of time underlines the region's
"It used to be difficult to convince the big stars to
come here but now it is the other way around. The big
stars actually want to come here and play now. Word of
mouth has played a key role. Sports men and women get
the best treatment here and want to return year after
year and they influence others to come and compete here
Tiger Woods has quite simply become a phenomenon.
Despite 2003 being considered as a disappointment for
the 27 year-old, he still picked up more prize money
than any other golfer and was named as the American
Tour's top player for the fifth time. A great
achievement for a player who began the year on the
sidelines with a knee operation.
At 22, Federer has drawn comparisons to a young Andre
Agassi due to his flamboyance on court and trademark
ponytail, and he followed his success in the Dubai Duty
Free Men's Open last year with the biggest trophy of
them all at Wimbledon. He also went on to claim five
other titles including the season ending Tennis Masters
Cup. His achievements earned him the Swiss Sportsman of
the Year award as well as over US$4 million in prize
Ferrari cars are not uncommon in the Middle East but
no-one can drive one quite like the marvelous Schumacher
- despite what some playboys might tell you!
The German has dominated the sport and is now motor
racing's most famous name since Alain Prost. Bahrain
will be a welcome introduction to the 2004 calendar and
the $100-million dollar track in the south of the island
will attract over 100,000 'petrol heads' from across the
Williams, along with her sister Serena, has quite simply
changed the face of women's tennis. From a sport of
grace and tranquility, the game is now welcoming a new
generation of players with power and pace and the 23
year-old is set to make a big impact this year after
injury restricted her 2003 appearances.
Al Arabi in Qatar may be a long way from the San Siro in
Italy, but it is the new home to former Inter Milan hero
Batistuta who has opted to end his illustrious football
career in the more gentle surroundings of the Qatar
While the tax-free $4 million contract may have been the
clinching factor to his move to the Middle East, few can
deny that Batistuta is quite simply a footballing God
and the fact that fans from the region can see this icon
play on its local grounds is a chance not to be missed.
The New Year will undoubtedly launch a new era for sport
across the region, which is set to go on from strength
The Big Five
Name: Tiger Woods
Achievements: The best way to sum it up... 52 titles and
prize money of $48 million in seven years - nice work if
you can get it!
When and where: Dubai, March 3-7. Dubai Desert Classic
Name: Roger Federer
Sport: ATP Tennis
Achievements: Seven titles in 2003, including Wimbledon,
have earned him the reputation of being the new Andre
Agassi. The shining star to emerge out of the new breed
of players, and a mature off-court manner that has made
him the sport's hottest property since the flamboyant
star from Las Vegas.
When and where: Dubai, March 1-7. Dubai Duty Free Men's
Name: Michael Schumacher
Sport: F1 Motor Racing
Achievements: The most successful Formula One driver in
history and one of sports' most recognisable faces. 2003
saw him pick up a sixth drivers' title - the first man
to achieve this. His 2004 contract with Ferrari is
reputed to be worth over $30 million.
When and where: Bahrain, April 4. Bahrain Grand Prix
Name: Venus Williams
Sport: WTA Tennis
Achievements: Recently signed the biggest ever
sportswear contract for a woman with Reebok. Winner of
29 singles titles, including four Grand Slams, and
career prize money approaching $14 million.h
When and where: Dubai, February 23-28. Dubai Duty Free
Name: Gabriel Batistuta
Achievements: One of the greatest players of the past
decade, breaking scoring records in his native Argentina
and Italy where he has become a living legend. A $4
million contract was incentive enough to persuade him to
finish his career in Qatar.
When and where: Qatar, January 1-April 30. Qatar First
Q&A with the biggest catch of them all!!
Do you get a sense when you're in the tournament you're
the only variable? When you're playing well, nobody else
can beat you?
Tiger Woods: I don't get a sense of that, no. I don't
think people actually understand how difficult this
sport is. This sport is very difficult and it's very
fickle. You can play well and you can lose. That's just
the nature of this sport. You get some breaks that are
bad, things just don't happen your way, but you're
playing well, and subsequently you don't win. I've
played well and not won, the other guy hasn't played
well and beaten me for some reason. That's the nature of
the sport. Just because I'm playing well doesn't
guarantee I'm going to win a tournament.
For a number of years you've been a professional, you've
kept pace with Jack Nicklaus' pace in the Majors. Do you
consider Jack Nicklaus your only rival, because you
don't seem to have any contemporary rivals?
As far as Jack being my only rival, I'm not playing
against him. Jack quit playing major championships, some
of them, a few years back. And these are the guys I've
got to try to beat somehow. It's not like I'm winning
every one - I have lost. And I don't think anyone
realises how tough it is to win a major championship.
You've got to really hit the ball well. And you've got
to grind it out and make a lot of putts. You've got to
really be committed to what you're doing out there. It's
not easy to win. But I've been able to do it somehow.
When you were growing up, you studied Jack's records,
and that's what you wanted. Was it in your mind that,
"If I can beat Jack's record, I can get a lot more,
I looked at the fact that he was able to do it for such
a long period of time. To be that successful, for that
long, I think that's what every athlete wants to be able
to do, and he was able to do it.
I looked at how he was able to do it; well, he was
consistent. That's one of the reasons I didn't change my
game in the middle of '97. I started changing my swing
and struggled all of '98, but came together in 1999 just
because I wanted to be more consistent. You can't win
tournaments unless you are up there a lot.
If you are up there week-in, week-out with your chances
to win, you'll win. You're not going to win every one,
but you'll win. That's what Jack was able to do better
than anyone who has ever played the game.
Do you think about where you might fit in on the history
of this game some day, and do things like Nicklaus'
greatest records come into your mind?
It would be nice to win as many majors as Jack did. That
would be great. And 23, if it doesn't happen, it doesn't
happen. I think the thing I keep saying to myself every
year is that I want to become a better player at the end
of the year than I was at the beginning of the year. And
if I can keep doing that year after year for the rest of
my career, I'll have a pretty good career.
Has advanced technology made a big difference in how you
are scoring and your wins in general?
To be honest, I'm not hitting the ball any further than
I did in '97. If anything I'm hitting just a touch
shorter because I've dialed my swing back, kept it more
in play. I have the ability to hit the ball as far as I
did in '97, but I don't. I don't swing at it that hard
anymore. I'd like to keep the ball in play and maneuver
it around and try different shots.
I think the biggest change for me has been the golf
ball. It's now so much better in the wind than it was
even in '97 and it's going to keep getting better.
That's just the way it is. But I haven't fully taken
advantage of the new technology. I haven't gone to
graphite. I haven't lengthened any of my shafts. And I
still play steel. So nothing has really changed in my
bag. I just really have improved my technique.
Is the calendar Grand Slam something you want to
I've won four major titles in a row and no one has ever
done that, not four professional majors. You can call it
what you want but when I was at home, I had all four
trophies on my mantle, and no other person can say that.
And no one else in the world had them but me. That was a
very special time in my life and hopefully I can do it
Your parents obviously play a big role in your success
It means a lot to me when my mom and dad are there to
share in this with me. Because you can't do it alone,
you just can't, and to have the support like I've been
able to have...it's always nice to be able to know that
any time you go home, everything is going to be all
What do you remember about your last visit to Dubai?
It was a wonderful experience and I've been looking
forward to coming back ever since. Mark O'Meara and
Thomas Bjorn had told me so many great things about the
people over there, the hospitality, the organisation and
the Emirates Golf Course that I just had to go and see
I certainly wasn't disappointed and it was good to see
golf alive and very, very well in the UAE. I even had
the wonderful honour of HH Sheikh Mohammed naming a
racehorse after me so I have very fond memories of
The crowds were also very polite, courteous and
knowledgeable and I found the course to be in wonderful
condition. The fairways were perfect, the greens ran
true and smooth and it was a little bit different to
what I'm used to playing on.
A lot of people talk about the weather in Dubai but when
the Desert Classic is held the temperature is very
similar to South California where I grew up so it feels
kind of like home to me. I also know I broke the
Classic's 36-hole record but records at the halfway
stage mean nothing to me. It means nothing if you don't
go on and win the tournament. Unfortunately for me,
that's what happened but I am 100% determined to go back
to Dubai and do better.