The Qatar ExxonMobil 2012 and the 2012 ATP World Tour was kicked off by the defending champion Roger Federer, along with his rival Rafael Nadal, at the amphitheatre of Katara Doha yesterday.
The tennis stars played the first informal match of the year in a court lit by over 4,000 candles.
Amid the flames, Nadal and Federer took to the court, in an atmosphere reminiscent of the ancient Roman era where large amphitheatres were used for spectator sports.
At sunset, the newly built amphitheatre of the Cultural Village came to life as the pair arrived to play a friendly match.
While Federer said it was ‘romantic’ to play in the presence of burning candles, and compared the atmosphere to that of the ‘Arabian Nights’, Nadal complimented Doha for coming up with something special every year and said that the place looked very beautiful.
This is the fourth time that the Spaniard and the Swiss have come together to launch the ATP World Tour season in Doha.
Last year, the pair started off the ATP World Tour by hitting balls on a court laid on Doha bay, making it a rare experience for both as neither had played on a surface like that before.
Speaking to the Peninsula in an interview, the three-time Doha champion said he feels at home here. “I’m excited to be back. It’s always wonderful to start the year from Doha. I have always done well here and would like to start the season in good fashion,” he said.
When asked about the changes he saw in Qatar, Federer said that although he has only just arrived here, the changes are very evident. “I see that the skyline grows every year, and many other changes have taken place in the country.”
Although the Grand Slam record holder has been touring the Arab world for many years, he said that he has not been able to pick up on Arabic yet. “I’m learning Chinese at the moment and hopefully I’ll start learning Arabic soon,” he said. The Swiss-born speaks German, French and English fluently, along with some Italian and Swedish.
Federer has gone 17 matches unbeaten and won three titles since the US Open in September, bringing hopes of winning a fourth title in Doha.
Nadal, the world number 2 and runner-up to Nikolay Davydenko last year, is aiming to win his first title in Doha.
The Qatar ExxonMobil Open 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of men’s professional tennis here. In the past, the Doha tournament has been won by the likes of Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier, Marcelo Rios and Andy Murray.