Federer Pockets Half Mil, Headlines at ATP Dubai

Posted on February 26, 2006

By Richard Vach, Tennis-X.com Senior Writer

No. 1 seed Roger Federer received more than an estimated half a million dollars just to show up for The Dubai Tennis Championships this coming week, approximately three times what he would earn for winning the event, and Dubai organizers see the Swiss as worth every penny of the appearance guarantee.

Organizers of Middle East events can afford to buy the best in professional tennis, as they're showing with their current effort to move the men's and women's Indian Wells event from the U.S. to the desert. Landing the Swiss this week, who is on the fast track to becoming the greatest player ever with what is seemingly a large guarantee sum, is nary a drop in the bucket for the oil-rich organizers.

Last week Dubai hosted a WTA event that, though not even a lauded "Tier I" stop, nevertheless offered $1 million in prize money. This paled in comparison to the under-the-table guarantees to attract five former No. 1s among the star-studded field in winner Justine Henin-Hardenne, runner-up Maria Sharapova, semifinalist Lindsay Davenport, and quarterfinalists Amelie Mauresmo and Martina Hingis.

Both Dubai and Doha businessmen aren't shy about -- when they're not busy building ski resorts inside malls or carting in sand to build giant man-made resort islands in the shape of palm trees, or even setting up ultra-modern sea-side hotels with makeshift tennis courts high above the city on helipads -- throwing wads of cash at players without hesitation.

"It is money well spent and a perfect return on investment for Dubai," Dubai Tournament Director Salah Tahlak told Gulf News last week. "Players like Agassi, Navratilova and Sharapova have this appeal. Therefore, we don't have problems paying them appearance money. The Top 10 players normally do (receive money). The payment is more like a Persian carpet, each one has a different pricing."

Setting up the helipad appearance with Federer and Agassi with the ATP's help last year set them back a measly $10 million, but as an investment in public relations turned out to be a shrewd investment.

"That stunt was valued at $9.5 million, while the marketing and public relations returns for the entire event was pinned at $24.5 million," Tahlak said. "This is sound return on the investments."

Federer will likely be another sound return for Dubai this week, with the Swiss at the top of his game seeking a fourth consecutive Dubai title, and looking to extend his Open Era-record 52-match winning streak on hardcourts.

Federer has made two appearances thus far in 2006, winning at Doha and then the Australian Open, then pulling out of a pair of events and the first round of the Davis Cup to rest, he said, for the back-to-back Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami.

Agassi is also also eager to tap the Dubai guarantee flow, and speak of his past experiences in the playland for the super-wealthy.

"Dubai is something I would look forward to sharing with my wife and family," Agassi said. "It's an incredible place to see and to visit for so many reasons. To see what they've built here is really a reflection of a lot of vision, a lot of passion, not to mention the cultures that live peacefully together. It's the way the world is meant to be."

Federer and Agassi's weren't the only bank accounts receiving oil injections this week as the Dubai field also contains world No. 2 Rafal Nadal, Top 10 lesser personalities Nikolay Davydenko and David Ferrer, and features the 2006 debut of Marat Safin who returns from a knee injury.

Other seeds in Dubai are Dominik "The Dominator" Hrbaty, and Czechs Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych.

Opening-round encounters of interest are (1) Federer vs. Swiss Davis Cup team member Stan Wawrinka, (2) Nadal vs. the hot-and-cold Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu who has played him tightly in the past, (8) Berdych vs. the hot-handed Belgian Christophe "The Roach" Rochus, (3) Davydenko vs. Safin in an all-Russian, (6) The Dominator vs. always-tough Russian Mikhail Youzhny, (5) Ferrer vs. former Top 10er Rainer Schuettler, and (4) Agassi vs. the big-serving "Grinning" Greg Rusedski.

Agassi is a big question mark coming into the event, in his appearance two weeks ago pulling from San Jose due to his chronic back problem before even hitting a ball in the first round. Look for Safin's 2006 debut to be an extremely short one, save for any choking from Davydenko, who should otherwise in short order show Safin why he is the No. 1-ranked Russian these days.

If Federer bypasses Wawrinka he will then face a snoozer against one of two Middle Eastern wildcards matching up in the first round, then a potentially interesting meeting with the No. 8 seed Berdych who beat him at the 2004 Olympics.

Tim Henman took a last-minute wildcard and faces Spaniard Feliciano "F-Lo" Lopez. If successful Henman, who on Monday steps down as the No. 1-ranked Brit in favor of Andy Murray who is competing at The Tennis Channel Open in Las Vegas, could face No. 7 Berdych in the second round and No. 2 Nadal in the quarterfinals.

Last year Federer faced stiff resistance in the final from hot-burning Ivan Ljubicic, eventually dousing the Croatian's flame 6-1, 6-7(6), 6-3.

Richard Vach is a senior writer for Tennis-X.com and can currently be seen on The Tennis Channel's "Tennis Insiders: Super Insiders" episodes.