Well first things first, it's definitely different to Ireland. Apart from the obvious factors like the weather (it can be bloody hot) and the surface which was to be expected (because I think we are the only country in the world playing on the lazy man's lawn), the structure is different here too.
This is good and bad. In many ways the Qatar Tennis Federation (QTF) is so far ahead of us in Ireland (mainly due to wealth) and then, surprisingly, so far behind in other ways.
For starters, there is no shortage of money in the QTF, as can be seen from the facility they have, which can be seen now on Sky Sports for the Qatar Exxon Open 2016. Apart from the fabulous centre court there are 4 other show courts as well as 19 other courts. This includes purpose built mini and midi courts. The coaches in the centre come from all over the world and feature some ex-pros, Younes El Aynaoui to name but one. Each coach is responsible for a specific National Squad age group, from u-8's right through to senior, and that's all they do.
How many Irish coaches would love to have that luxury and how far could our players go if we could give them that attention. The squad players want for nothing, access to a players lounge, free restringing when ever needed, use of a top class gym, an onsite fitness professional, an onsite sports psychologist and basically whatever else they need.
Basically the facility, Khalifa International tennis and Squash Complex, is the home of the National Squads and offices for the QTF.
While you can hire courts here, there is no membership facility. They host a large amount of tournaments during the year, International team events, 6 ITF Future events and their showpiece events the ATP tour event, that takes place in January, and a WTA event that will take place in February. So from that point of view you definitely can't fault the QTF. It does seem though that the sole purpose of the QTF is to run major tournaments and look after National Squads, and this is where it differs from Tennis Ireland or the Provincial branches that we have.
I wonder is it because Tennis Ireland requires the money from clubs and tournaments that there is such a big emphasis on these in Ireland. If they had access to the money that is available here would we be in the same situation in Ireland as the non nationals and non-professional players find themselves in here?
If you are new to Qatar and trying to find somewhere other than the QTF to play, good luck! I did come across one site (www.globaltennisnetwork.com) before coming out here and was able to make a few contacts, which helped, but unfortunately it doesn't have a lot of people registered in Qatar so information was limited. Trying to get information about open tournaments or coaching or where to play since arriving here is difficult.
The national team coaches are not allowed to coach privately so where do you find a coach? There are a few academies out here and they must be doing very well as they don't advertise either. Bear in mind I'm here four months now and am still trying to find out various bits of information.
I was told the open tournament season starts at the end of August and runs through to April, so far I was able to find 2 tournaments, so my search continues.
I may even have to set up my own Qatar tennis information site, watch this space!
I know I'm coming across a bit negative about the place, it's just that I'm baffled how a country can have such fabulous facilities available and not promote them properly. Having money isn't always the answer.
Shortly after arriving I had to get a racket restrung. Now when you've being stringing your own rackets for the last 20+ years it was a strange position to be in. There are a few shops around that string and there is a full time stringer at the QTF (but he only strings for the National Squads). I went to the shop with the biggest tennis section. Get this! it would take 4 days before my racket would be ready. He told me they were very busy and showed me the cupboard, with about 10 rackets inside to be done. If we took more than the following day in Maher Sports we got grief. I had no choice, so I left it there with my instructions and received a blank look when I told him what I wanted done and surprise, surprise it wasn't what I had asked for.
Thankfully, not long after this I got some work at the QTF stringing for the 3 weeks of ITF Futures events so now I am in a position to string my own rackets again.
All in all it has being an interesting experience here so far and it makes you think what if we had these facilities back home but also what a good job the individual provincial branches do at promoting tennis and getting people involved.
Thanks for reading, more posts to follow.