Excitement was palpable at the press conference ahead of the PSA Dubai World Series Finals, as the top eight men’s and women’s squash players got acquainted with a spectacular new stage on which to showcase their skill and athleticism. Sam Price reports from Dubai Opera
Owing to the portability of the glass cube in which it is played, squash has proven its versatility over the years by staging tournaments in some of the most spectacular and atmospheric locations ever witnessed in the world of sport, with Hong Kong Harbour, New York’s Grand Central Terminal and the Ancient Egyptian Pyramids in Giza three such examples. And this week in Dubai, another iconic new venue will be added to the sport’s impressive roster.
As athletes, administrators and journalists gathered in the Dubai Opera Auditorium for the press conference introducing the 2017 PSA Dubai World Series Finals, eyes wandered from the rows of luxurious red seating in the front, to the private booths on all sides of the stunning, three-storey atrium, and finally to the Z Court, which gleamed on a stage that for five days will become a battleground for the top eight men’s and women’s players on the professional tour.
PSA Chairman Ziad Al-Turki – who has done more than anyone else in the last 10 years to elevate the sport’s profile – promised the audience “one of the most incredible visual symphonies in sport” as he sat alongside a panel of distinguished guests that also included His Excellency Saeed Hareb, Secretary-General of Dubai Sports Council; Alastair Ruxton, COO of Falcon & Associates; and Jasper Hope, CEO of Dubai Opera.
Situated in the heart of downtown Dubai, the venue – which is designed to resemble an Arabian sailing vessel – only opened its doors to the public nine months ago but has already welcomed some of the biggest names in music entertainment, from opera to ballet, contemporary dance to musical theatre.
“We have very quickly become a destination for Dubai unlike any other,” declared Hope, who previously spent seven years as COO of the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London.
“We have focused throughout those nine months on quality and variety; on using this extraordinary space for much more than only opera.
“This week, we [will host] some very different artists: athetes. People from the sporting world, who [nonetheless] have many similarities with people who are normally on this stage; they have grace, elegance, poise and skill, and they are world-class.”
After the success of the inaugural PSA Dubai World Series Finals in 2016, held in front of the magnificent Burj Khalifa, the stars of the squash world have been striving to earn enough ‘Road to Dubai’ points on the PSA World Series in order to qualify for its end-of-season extravaganza. In addition to a total prize purse of US$320,000 across the men’s and women’s competitions, the event also offers the players unrivalled hospitality and the opportunity to write their names in history by becoming the first-ever sportspeople to compete in the breathtaking Opera House.
The significance of the occasion was certainly not lost on three-time world champion Nick Matthew, who has built his campaign around peaking for this tournament and couldn’t hide his excitement ahead of his opening match.
“It’s an absolutely fantastic venue,” said the 36-year-old.
“I’m the oldest player [at the event] so I’ve seen a lot in this sport, but this is something totally new even for me. The closest we’ve had [to this] was in Rotterdam in the [New Luxor] Theatre, and Symphony Hall, Boston – but Dubai, as with most things in this city, have taken it to that extra level.
“We feel the warmth of the city, and I don’t just mean the weather! The hospitality is amazing, and we can’t wait to get on court and repay [Dubai] by entertaining you.”
Despite the loss of the popular Ramy Ashour and Amanda Sobhy due to injury, the event still boasts a star-studded line-up, with defending champions Gregory Gaultier and Laura Massaro back for more alongside former world no. 1s Mohamed ElShorbagy and Nicol David. The best-of-three format, meanwhile, should ensure that each match is electric from the get-go, with the off-court entertainment also promising to excite spectators at the 2,000-capacity venue.
As the players departed the auditorium in search of their rackets in order to test the new court, the stage was set for Dubai Opera to host a fusion of sport, culture and innovation unlike any other event in the world.
Now, it’s time to let the games begin.
The PSA Dubai World Series Finals will run from 6-10 June at Dubai Opera. Tickets are still available at www.dubaiopera.com