It’s the first time for US tennis player Taylor Fritz at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha, and the 23-year-old has landed right when the Qatar-US 2021 Year of Culture is gaining momentum.
On Monday, Fritz, who is the second youngest American after Michael Chang to reach an ATP final when he did so at Memphis in 2016 at the age of 18, advanced to the next round at Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex after a straight sets 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over Italian Lorenzo Sonego.
“I have never been (to Qatar). This is my first year. I'm really excited,” Fritz said during a virtual press conference that was attended by ambassador Greta C Holtz, charge d’affaires of the US embassy in Qatar.
“I think obviously with everything going on with Covid, it's been really tough to like, you know, play and travelling has been complicated. Going to tournaments hasn't really been the same.”
With Holtz praising Qatar’s progress on all fronts in the run-up to FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Fritz did feel that he was missing out.“We're not allowed to leave at all (because of the bubble). But I'm a big soccer fan.
"So I'm really excited for the World Cup coming up,” said the second highest ranked American on the ATP Tour at 33.
Holtz said, “I just want to say what an honour and a pleasure it is to have Taylor here in Doha. I'm very glad you were able to come.
“Sorry you have not been able to get out a lot, but we have to keep you healthy and safe. Hopefully, you'll be able to come back for the FIFA World Cup.
"The stadiums are amazing. Qatar is doing a great job on getting everything ready.
"The US government, we work very closely with Qatar on security and many other aspects of the World Cup.”
“It would be cool if I could come here for the World Cup,” the Manchester United and Ronaldo fan replied.
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges for the world at large, including sport.
While the world continues its battle against the pandemic, with vaccines being rolled out and the caseload dropping in many places, the Year of Culture presents an opportunity for respite after a forgettable 2020.
“I think from my point of view, Qatar has done a great job in creating the balance between keeping things open, keeping people able to go out and do things and keeping them safe, limiting crowd size, encouraging and enforcing wearing a mask.
"They have a very robust vaccination campaign,” Holtz said.
“We love the fact that we are having the Qatar-USA Year of Culture right in the year leading up to the World Cup. This enables us to bring in a lot more content on sports highlighting the many amazing teams that we have, not just in football/soccer, but the tennis, the golf, all sorts of things.
“The challenges are epic, of course, with Covid. You know, we have had to really push back some of our events to later in the year, hoping that the numbers go down, the vaccination programme will be more complete.
“We have done art exhibitions, Washington Spirit women's soccer team came over and played a friendly with the Qatar national women's team. So, we have been able to do quite a bit. We'd like to do more and we hope we can as the numbers on Covid go down and the vaccinations go up.”