SOFIA, December 7, 2016
The tournament director of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and Senior Vice President for the company’s Corporate Communications, Salah Tahlak, has come to Bulgaria in order to watch the climax of the inaugural Garanti Koza Sofia Open. Ahead of Sunday’s final Sofia Open’s media director Lubomir Todorov spoke to him:
Mr. Tahlak, is this your first visit in Sofia? What are your impressions?
It is great city. It is my first time here. The first impression I got at the airport. Yesterday when we came, we didn’t know where to go first. We went to a desk but it was for EU citizens, and then there was a lady who said that we have to go back to the other desk. But she said that with a great smile. This did great impression. After that we came out and there was snow everywhere. But this morning we went to the city and there were great buildings. We saw the king’s palace, the Parliament building, the University. I liked it, for me it has culture. It has rich culture.
What are your impressions of the tournament?
Look, for these two or maximum three months, I think the guys did a great job, really. It is a great thing. You know, our tournament used to be ATP 250, but now is ATP 500.
Would you suggest any advices to the organizers of Garanti Koza Sofia Open for the next years?
I told Erhan Oral (tournament director) what you need, the best thing you should do is to do a teaser ad. There are top-players coming and when it’s getting closer to the event they can put their pictures on the advertisement.
Why Dubai Duty Free chose to give the license to Sofia after Zagreb?
We have seen many cities in the world. But ATP insisted the tournament to stay in Europe. We thought Sofia is a great city, has a lot of culture, a lot of players. It is not too far from Zagreb. And it is close to everything.
What is the secret of the tournament in Dubai winning the ATP World Tour 500 award 11 times?
I think we do a lot of things. First of all, we never thought for commercial benefits of the tournament. For us it is a purely promotion for the city, promotion for the airport, promotion for the Duty Free of the airport in Dubai. We pay attention to a lot of details. We make our tournament very friendly, very family orientated and very relaxing. The destination itself is also great. Players love to come to Dubai. For them it is like a holyday, they enjoy it. Because of that we built a 5-star hotel. It is very convenient; it is in the middle of the city. We have 11 to 12 fine restaurants around the area and a beautiful layout, so there are a lot of things they like. Our staff involved more than 700 people from Dubai Duty Free. It is very friendly, it is professional. We take care for everyone from the airport.
How was born the great idea for the practice session of Andre Agassi and Roger Federer on the helipad of Burj Al Arab hotel?
It is mine and Bharat Godkhind’s idea. First it was done by Emaar Properties for Tiger Woods. But Tiger just went up. We thought “Let’s make a proper tennis court”. It looks small, but it is two thirds of a tennis court. It is big. It is amazing. It took us one month to convince Agassi and Roger to do that in 2005. You know Agassi has a phobia of the height. So he told us “If Roger agrees I will do it.” So we did it. The following morning I got a call and I was told: “Guys, what you have done, hit half the planet.” Everything costed $25, 000 dollars . The impact was $26.5 million. It was great PR. Even now, 11 years after that, people are still talking about this. So we are very proud.
What we can expect of the tournament in Dubai this year?
We are so sad that we are going to miss the champion Roger Federer. When it comes to health nobody can play with it. I wish him best recovery. I think it is going to be interesting because Stan Wawrinka will come to Dubai for first time. It will be a tough competition between Stan and Djokovic. Djokovic won the trophy four times. I think he is on top of his level of athleticism. I think he may win all four Grand Slams this year. We have made some changes for the players’ party, some surprises for the players.