Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
22 - 28 October 1998
Issue No.400
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Current issue | Previous issue | Site map

It's a tennis month

By Nashwa Abdel-Tawab

Sixty players from all over the world entered the 76th Egypt International Tennis Championship which started on 17 October at the traditional location -- the Gezira Club, Zamalek.

The event, which ends on 25 October, will be followed by the much-hyped Al-Ahram four-player women's tennis exhibition on 30 and 31 October.

Thirty-two players competed in the preliminary draws in the first two days, with four of them qualifying for the main draw, which already had 24 seeded foreign players and four Egyptians who qualified on the wild card.

The event is supervised by the ATP, which oversees professional tennis competitions including Challengers, Competition, Super Series and Grand Slams.

Two Egyptians, Wael Abbas and Khaled El-Sergani, and two foreigners are the umpires.

"It's one of the best organised Challengers I've ever seen and it's a very big tournament," said Vincenzo Bottone, ATP tour supervisor of the 74th Egyptian Open held in Cairo two years ago. Bottone said he was happy to supervise the 76th Egyptian Open, which has attracted many good international players.

Among the foreign players are world no. 78 Oliver Gross of Germany, who had a good game at this year's Hamburg Open. Spain's Albert Portas, ranked no. 97, is also here. Having reached the semi-final in the Stuttgart Open, he is hoping to improve his world-ranking.

Another Spaniard, Javier Sanchez, whose sister Arantxa Vicario-Sanchez will be playing in the Al-Ahram exhibition, also entered the Egyptian Championship.

Although there are high hopes in Amr Ghoneim, whose world-ranking improved to 649 after beating the top player in Uzbekistan, ranked no. 290, Egyptian players have little chance of making it to the final.

The Egyptian Championship, which started in 1907, is one of the oldest international championships. It stopped in 1990 for financial reasons and was only revived in 1996.

Greek player Zirlizy holds the Egyptian Open record, having won the event five times. Maj. Gen. Adli El-Shafi was the first Egyptian to win the championship in 1946. His son Ismail El-Shafi, who won the Wimbledon title in the 1970s, remains the best Egyptian tennis player of all time.

The winner of this year's event will walk away with $14,000 and 90 ATP points.

Mohamed Halawa, president of the Egyptian Tennis Federation (ETF), said that they aim to raise the level of the competition from a Challenger to a Super Series. That means the prize money will total over $125,000.

Tournament director Ayman Azmi, who founded and directed the famous Qatar Open World Series, was invited to direct the Egyptian Open for the third time.

"It's an honour for me to continue directing the Egypt International Championship," he said. "In Qatar, we managed to realise a LE28 million profit from the Open because the facilities were under my control and because of the flexibility of the sponsors. With that money we built a first class club for the country. In short, we financed the country, and not the other way round."

Azmi said such huge profits were only realised in Qatar because the sponsors of the competition were given rights to television and newspaper advertisements.

However, here in Egypt they suffocate sponsors, he said. They create obstacles for them, expecting them to sponsor the game for "God's sake", he added, so not surprisingly, many companies shun the responsibility.

Azmi said that if Egypt removed the restrictions on sponsors, the country would gain from the publicity of the famous international championship while also sharing in the profits.