AN INTERVIEW WITH NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI

The president of Qatar Tennis Federation, Mr. Nasser Al Khelaifi had a press conference this afternoon during The QATAR EXXONMOBIL OPEN TENNIS 2013. by Zahir Abbasi from Doha – Qatar.

Nasser Ghanim Al Khelaifi is the first Qatari Tennis Player to ever play in the ATP. As part of the Qatar National Team, Nasser won the GCC Team Tournament. This celebrated athlete and pride of Qatar is currently the new President of the Qatar Tennis Federation. Nasser is a visionary man who wants to develop further tennis in the country and create a much stronger tennis culture. “I want to inspire the youngsters of Qatar to love the sport and become world class tennis players

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  First of all, I would like to thank you all for attending the press conference.  I would like to thank His Highness, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Emir of the State, and His Highness, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, for their support of the tournament during the 21 years. I would like also to thank our partner, Qatar ExxonMobil, and all our sponsor companies for their support to the tournament. After the excellent semifinals last night, I must tell you that I am looking forward to a great final today.  We have two fantastic players on the center court.  Nikolay Davydenko from Russia, winner of 2010 edition, and who also attended the tournament for 10 times.

Nikolay Davydenko is very powerful player.  He was ranked in the world as the No. 3 in 2006, and he also achieved accomplishments in his career.  He won about 21 career titles. He will also play the French player, Richard Gasquet, who is ranked world No. 10.  Richard Gasquet also has a very powerful career.  He won about seven career titles before coming to Doha.

I would like also to thank our sponsors and our title sponsor ExxonMobil and the other sponsor companies.  I would like also to thank the members of the organizing committee for their efforts and the volunteers, ball boys, and you, also, the media, who have covered the tournament during its history. And special thanks to our ex‑coach.  I’m very happy to see you here.  Now he’s in the media.  Welcome to Doha and thank you very much. Any questions?

Q.  A question was asked about the absence of top‑ranked players, Nadal and Federer, in the tournament.

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  Their absence is very influential, but according to the figures, the figures were not affected.  The tickets sales were fine, and yesterday’s match, the stadium was full.

Q.  How have the visits of Paris Saint‑Germain and this tennis tournament this week enhanced Qatar’s reputation as the capital of sport in the Middle East?

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  I think it’s excellent image for Qatar because Qatar is capital of sport.  The facilities here and attendance to the tennis tournament, I think it adds value.  And also the image of the tennis tournament in terms of exposure, PSG has a lot of stars, and the people are following them.   I think it was very excellent for them.

Q.  I was wondering if you had the opportunity to speak to Rafa Nadal after he pulled out of the tournament.

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  Yes, I did.  Actually, he apologized that he’s not being here in Doha because he told me by text message that it’s one of his favorite tournaments, Doha.  He loves Doha, as you know. I think we miss him here, and I wish him all the best.  He’s good friend of mine.  He’s great guy, excellent player.

I hope he will come back soon, because tennis really will miss him.  I think we need the kind of players like Rafa because it’s very difficult to find in this moment, to be honest.

Q.  I know it’s a difficult question about the calendar, but are you happy with the dates of the tournament, or would you prefer to change the dates?

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  No, I think of course, you know, 31st is not really the date that we prefer, to be honest, but it’s not in our hands, as you know, the calendar from the ATP, and respect that.  We cannot change it.  It’s not in our hands.

Q.  How important is this tournament for the sport in Qatar and for the Olympic candidates for Doha?

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  I think it’s very important tournament.  It’s one of the first if not the first tournament in region, in Qatar, even in the region as international.  It’s been now for 21 years.  So it’s really very important, got very good reputation, very good image. I think, you know, the organization here ‑‑ I’m not going to say anything about the organization.  I leave that to you.  But I think it’s very important to Qatar and to us.  We are doing everything to make it one of the best tournaments in the world.

As you know, today it is the highest prize money in terms of the 250 prize money.  It’s not just prize money but players, you know, love it.  As Rafa, just asking me the question about Rafa, he love this tournament because we are, you know, treating the players like we want them to feel like they are at home.  That’s how we are as Qatar people.  We welcome everybody in Qatar and love to have everybody to let them feel like they are at home.  This is very, very important to us.

Q.  (Through translation.)  A question about if you are surprised by the qualification of Davydenko to the final match, beating Ferrer.

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  (Through translation.)  Davydenko is a very powerful player and very excellent player.  Also, the other guy, Ferrer, made a bit of a match, but tennis is always a sport of surprises, so I’m not surprised by the qualification of Davydenko.

Q.  I would like to know what impact this tournament is according to the local tennis here in Qatar.

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  I think today we have two Qatari players.  There is a lot of Qatari players who love tennis in terms of exposure to it.  The Qatari players now they come by themselves to play tennis.  They come here, enjoying the tennis, now to tennis to become one of the most popular sport in Qatar. It’s like before, I think this tournament add a lot to the sport, to the tennis sport here in the region, region and in Qatar.  We have today for first time since 21 years we have two Qatari players playing at the same time, the same tournament, in the men’s draw. I think this is also the result of what we are doing, you know.  It’s true with the wildcard.  We hope they are going to do better.  Their participation in the tournament is a great success for the Tennis Federation, and we hope one day, as I dreamed before, to have one Qatari player play in the men’s draw without wildcard. This is my dream, and keeping this as our objective.  We didn’t do it as players so I hope we are doing it today as organizers.

Q.  (Through translation.)  A question about Qatar facilities and the new stadium.

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  I am wishing the Tennis Federation to host the most important championships in tennis, and it is our tournament.  Although it is 250 points tournament, the prize money and the attendance of players is more than the tournament in the 500 series. Also, for the new stadium, the Qatar Tennis Federation has finished the design of the stadium, and the stadium will be ready in just three or four years. As for the visit of Paris Saint‑Germain, the visit will help the Qatari sport, and the players and the coach of Paris Saint‑Germain were happy by the facilities that are available in the State of Qatar, and also the weather of Qatar.

As for the result, it was nice in the first half, but in the second half the Paris Saint‑Germain has increased the result.

Q.  (Through translation.)  A question about the investment of tennis and the wish of Qatar to buy tournament outside Qatar.

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  (Through translation.)  The Qatar Tennis Federation will not buy rights of any tournament from outside Qatar, and they will only concentrate on the tournament, international tournaments that are being held in the State of Qatar only and are not organizing as a tournament outside of Qatar.

Q.  I noticed that some of the PSG players came and watched the tennis.  I assume you had some time talking with Ibramovic.  Is he happy at the club?  Do you have any concerns he might be looking for a bigger stage, like the Premier League?

NASSER GHANIM AL KHELAIFI:  I think that as I said it is tennis press conference.  Maybe later on I will answer.  He’s very happy, anyway.

Source: Caye Global News, Zahir Abbasi is our correspondent in the State of Qatar.

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