With a slew of international events and a roster of world-class talent, Abu Dhabi’s sporting calendar is putting our capital on the map.
Elite sports stars including Lewis Hamilton, Cristiano Ronaldo and the Brownlee brothers are no strangers to the capital, but there are plenty more high-profile sports personalities lining up to compete in Abu Dhabi’s growing portfolio of international events.
In the coming weeks alone, sports fans can look forward to seeing a FIFA World Cup winner, the world number one and two in ATP tennis rankings and the world number one and three in golf – and that’s just the beginning…
The magic number
Back-to-back champions Real Madrid will return to the capital to defend their title and bid to become the first side to win the FIFA Club World Cup three times in a row.
The Spanish giants will face stiff competition from the UAE’s own Al Ain FC, Team Wellington, Kashima Antlers, Guadalajara, ES Tunis and River Plate, as the tournament unfolds in Abu Dhabi from 12th to 22nd December.
Matches will be held at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain for the opening stages before moving to Zayed Sports City Stadium for the second semi-final, third place play-off and final. Visit: ticketmaster.ae
Among the contenders are world number one Novak Djokovic, world number two Rafael Nadal and tennis aces Hyeon Chung, Karen Khachanov, Dominic Thiem and reigning champion Kevin Anderson.
Tennis fans will also be in for a treat as the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, face off against one another in an exhibition match on the opening day of the competition.
Looking forward to stepping onto court in the capital, world number 11 Karen Khachanov hopes to make an impression in his first appearance at the tournament.
“I’m working hard, even harder than I was before, to improve my game – that is what I’m focussing on right now,” Khachanov tells us. “[Mubadala World Tennis Championship] is a great tournament and I’ve heard a lot of positive things about it and Abu Dhabi.
“Some of the world’s best players are there this year and that is a great challenge.”
Aiming to get the crowds behind him, the 22-year-old Russian athlete, who is based in Dubai, is hoping that the local fans can help inspire him to perform on the court to progress in his tournament debut.
“I like to be in the UAE and the fans are always great there,” adds Khachanov. “This will be the first time I will play in Abu Dhabi and I hope that the fans will get behind me and support me during the matches.
“This tournament is a great preparation for the Australian Open and I look forward to going up against some of the world’s best players.”
Facing Khachanov in the first round, with the opportunity to face Djokovic in the second round, is French Open finalist Thiem, who is feeling confident ahead of returning to the tournament this year: “I’m really looking forward to coming back to Abu Dhabi because it’s a great tournament and also because I like the city,” Thiem tells us.
“The line-up is unbelievable and I’m looking forward to going up against [Khachanov], and hopefully getting my revenge after he defeated me in Paris earlier in the year.”
Looking to improve on last season, Thiem hopes to face Nadal in Abu Dhabi after losing to the Spaniard earlier this year in his first Grand Slam final at the French Open.
“To play on clay is always a challenge and it’s extraordinary that [Nadal] has won the Grand Slam on clay 11 times. If I play Nadal in Abu Dhabi it means I’m in the final and that would be nice for me. I hope that it happens.”
In the swing of things
Could Tommy Fleetwood make it three-in-a-row? The Englishman is among a stellar line-up again this year at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship where he will aim to retain the trophy after wins in 2017 and 2018.
This year, the tournament, held at Abu Dhabi Golf Club from 16th to 19th January, will welcome back world number three Dustin Johnson as well as PGA Tour Player of the Year and world number one Brooks Koepka, who last competed in the capital in 2014.
The 14th edition of the competition is set to be the biggest yet with this year’s event being elevated to Rolex Series status on the European Tour for the first time. The prize purse has also increased as a result from approximately AED 11m to AED 25m.
Looking forward to teeing off in the capital, Fleetwood knows he’ll have to be at his best to come out on top again this year.
“I always love starting my year in Abu Dhabi, there’s just something special about the place,” Fleetwood tells us.
“Until the last two years, I’ve actually found the course really difficult. If you are not driving the ball well, it can be really punishing. The other challenge is the fact that the field is usually one of the strongest on the European Tour so to win, you have to beat some of the best players in the world.”
While the target of bagging a third successive trophy is a dream for the Englishman, it’s the thrill of returning to play in front of such enthusiastic fans that is motivating him ahead of the competition.
“The fans and the people in general in Abu Dhabi are awesome,” adds Tommy. “The tournament seems to get busier and busier every year and they are always so supportive, especially on the 17th and 18th where they have a huge stand beside the green. I’ll never forget the crowd cheering when I held the putt on 18 in 2017 to win, and I’m always grateful for their support.”
Among the contenders aiming to stop Fleetwood’s winning streak in the capital, Johnson is looking to start the year on a high in Abu Dhabi.
“I have really enjoyed the last two tournaments and I am excited to return,” Dustin tells us. “I would love to start the year off on a high note and, having finished second there [in 2017], I know the course suits my eye and I am hoping for a great week. It is a great tournament and always attracts a world-class field. The weather is perfect, the facilities are excellent and the course is always immaculate.
“I’m always pretty confident and am determined to someday win in Abu Dhabi,” Johnson admits. “I plan to arrive in Abu Dhabi ready to give myself the best possible chance to win.”
On the horizon
AFC Asia Cup
International football teams from across Asia and the Middle East will compete in the UAE for the AFC Asia Cup 2019 from 5th January to 1st February. The home nation will kick-off the tournament on 5th January against Bahrain at Zayed Sports City Stadium before facing India and Thailand in Group A for the chance to progress to the latter stages. Visit: the-afc.com
ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi 2019
The world’s best triathletes will be in town for the ITU World Triathlon on 8th and 9th March. Amateurs can also take part in the community event before elite athletes compete in the ITU World Triathlon series opener, with previous winners Henri Schoeman and Rachel Klamer both returning to take part in the Yas Island competition. Visit: abudhabi.triathlon.org
Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019
Coming to the Middle East for the first time, the Special Olympics World Games 2019 will be held in Abu Dhabi from 14th to 21st March. Athletes with intellectual disabilities from around the world will compete in 24 sports including basketball, cycling and kayaking. Visit: abudhabi2019.org
WORDS Colin Armstrong