‘Stan the Man’ Wawrinka primed to weave tennis magic at Diriyah Tennis Cup

1 / 4
Swiss shot-maker Stan Wawrinka will compete at the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup. (AN Photo)
2 / 4
Swiss shot-maker Stan Wawrinka will compete at the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup. (AN Photo)
3 / 4
Swiss shot-maker Stan Wawrinka will compete at the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup. (AN Photo)
4 / 4
Swiss shot-maker Stan Wawrinka will compete at the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup. (AN Photo)
Updated 21 October 2019

‘Stan the Man’ Wawrinka primed to weave tennis magic at Diriyah Tennis Cup

  • Wawrinka will battle it out with eight of the world’s best tennis players in a tournament which is being staged as part of the Diriyah Season – featuring Formula E and World Heavyweight boxing
  • Stan Wawrinka: For me, it has always been my passion. I loved tennis because it is a game where you play against someone and you need to find a solution

RIYADH: He’s a fan favorite known around the world as ‘Stan the Man’ and now tennis enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia will be able to watch three-time Grand Slam in action with the announcement of the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup.
Staged as part of the Diriyah Season (which includes Formula E, World Heavyweight boxing and an elite equestrian event) Stan Wawrinka will battle it out in a unique tournament featuring eight of the world’s best men’s tennis players, all with their eyes on the coveted Diriyah Cup. It will be the first time international tennis has come to the Kingdom and, ahead of the contest, ‘Stan the Man’ spoke about his excitement of playing in the Diriyah Tennis Cup, staged in an iconic venue at the a UNESCO world heritage site, in the 15,000-seater purpose built Diriyah Arena.

Arab News: You were so close to winning the European Open in Belgium, can you tell us what happened and how Andy Murray won at the end?
Stan Wawrinka: First it’s always been a pleasure sharing a court with Andy, great to have him back and congrats on a strong tournament, As for the match he hung on in the end and did not want to lose, it was so close, sure I do not like to lose but I’m happy to see Andy back and on the winning track.

AN: How important is it for tennis to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bringing the game to a new market? How excited are you to be playing here?
SW: I think it is great for tennis, but it is more important for the kids here around to see some live tennis action. I’m really excited to be playing in the first tournament ever to be played here. So that is going to be really special and hopefully it will be a great atmosphere, and I’m looking forward to seeing all the young fans.

AN: As an international tennis player you travel a lot throughout the year. How do you feel about visiting and playing in Saudi Arabia?
SW: I always enjoyed traveling and you need that as a tennis player because you travel 10 months a year, but also after so many years on the tour I enjoy it even more when I get to a new place, a new tournament and see something new, and that is something great here.

AN: What do you think of the ongoing sporting revolution in Saudi Arabia? What does it mean for you as an athlete?
SW: I have heard a lot of good stuff [about Saudi Arabia] and especially what they are doing now for sport. They are making a lot of big events in different kinds of sports, and that is something great for the country, for the fans and the kids to see all the sports and events coming here. I’m sure it is going be something amazing. To build a tennis court here with so many people attending a tennis tournament for the first time will feel really special as a player to come here.

AN: Diriyah Season features different high-profile sporting events. What do you think of the season and its program?
SW: It is a big program with many events such as Formula E, boxing and tennis. It is going to be really busy for everybody and I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard only good things about Formula E last year, and I saw where the tennis court is going to be and I’m sure it will be great.

AN: Speaking of the other events in Diriyah Season, the tennis competition is a few days after the Clash on the Dunes which pits Andy Ruiz Jr against Anthony Joshua in the first World Heavyweight title fight in the Middle East. Who is your pick for this incredible showdown?
SW: They’re going to be at the same stadium. We are going to play the tennis after [the fight, which will be] a few days before us. Joshua is a big one and I’m betting on him.

AN: You’ll be up against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, Belgium’s David Goffin and Italy’s Fabio Fogini and four more competitors to be announced later. How do you see your participation in the inaugural edition of the Diriyah Tennis Cup? How does it impact your preparations for the next season?
SW: I think it is going to be a perfect start [to the season]. It is going to be at the end of the pre-season. Starting with a tournament like that with so many good players is going to be super great for my tennis. I think the atmosphere is going to be great. It is the first tennis tournament here and it will be really special, so I’m happy to be playing here for the first year and hopefully many more years.

AN: Some fans might be tempted to watch the games on TV rather than attending the action live. How different is it living the whole experience in the stands?
SW: It is completely different from TV. [In reality] you can see the speed, you can see the spin and the way we are moving. I think it is way more impressive to watch it live. You also feel the atmosphere, the tension on the court and the stress from the players, so it is always something special to watch sport live.

AN: Looking ahead to the new season, what are your aspirations? What do you want to achieve?
SW: I need to finish the year and then have a good off-season and pre-season and work out to keep improving. This year I’m really happy to be back in the top 20 and I saw that I can still beat the top players and make some big results. Hopefully next year I can keep pushing in that direction and try to get back higher in the ranking and try to push a little for more big results.

AN: What does a tennis player do in the pre-season training? How does your preparation differ from some of the other big players?
SW: We take the time to have an off-season in tennis. We don’t have a super long off-season, so after the last tournament normally we will take a little bit of holiday, maybe 10 days or maximum two weeks but probably 10 days and then you have a few weeks to basically work on your fitness and your tennis. Most of the time I start first on the fitness side and move onto tennis and fitness together, and finish with only tennis. That is the work you put in. For sure when you are 34 years old you don’t work the same as when you were 20. Now for me I focus more on small things. I don’t need to put in so much quantity. I still do it because my game needs it and l know that is how I get to the top of my game, but it is slightly less than when I was younger.

AN: What do you think of next year’s majors? Do you have a favorite? Is it the clay where you had a lot of success?
SW: I think they are all different and amazing. Australia is the first in the year and I love the atmosphere and the fans. They really enjoy and celebrate the sport. It is great because in Europe it is wintertime, so you arrive first in a sunny place. French Open is clay court and I grew up on clay. It is close to my home and all the friends and family come. [Wimbledon] is always special with the grass and there is so much history in the tournament. New York is a bit more like the crazy one. The atmosphere is crazy and electric, and the city is amazing. So, I always enjoy each tournament I compete in, and I always look at the positive and enjoy what I love.

AN: Are you looking forward to the Olympics? Are you excited by the potential to play alongside Roger again? How do you compare it the majors?
SW: Olympic year is always very busy on the schedule. It is tough to make the right schedule. It is a big calendar. I’m looking forward to all the tournaments. For sure the majors are important, and the Olympics can be something really exciting, [and I’m excited] to play in Tokyo. But again, for us there is so much happening week after week that you need to be focused on the present and you need to be focused on what you are doing. Put some goals but the rest of the time you need to stay in the present because if not, you miss so much.

AN: What does a tennis player eat during a tournament and in training?
SW: I think we are all different. It is an individual sport. We all have different bodies and different metabolisms, and we eat differently. For me, it is simple food. I love and enjoy food and I always try food from the country [I’m in]. But again, we are athletes and we need to be careful. We plan but I’m not that extreme and I try to enjoy and eat healthy.

AN: Do you enjoy Arabic food? Have you tried any of the local food?
SW: Yes, I do for sure. Not every day but I enjoy it every once in a while and eat that kind of food.

AN: What does tennis mean for you? What role does it play in your life?
SW: For me, it has always been my passion. I loved tennis because it is a game where you play against someone and you need to find a solution. You enjoy, you are on the court, you can try a new shot. So, it has always been special and since I [turned] professional, [playing] in front of people and in a great atmosphere is the reason I keep playing tennis.

AN: And what about sport in general? How do you think it shapes one’s personality?
SW: I think any sport is a good school of life. We are lucky with tennis that we travel a lot. We need to take care of our own team. We need to stay humble and to never forget the hard work that you have to put if you want to be on the top of your game. For me, it has always been something special to be a tennis player. I think it is great to do sport and be active. It makes you do something that you can really enjoy [as] it is a game. Any sport starts as a game that you can play with friends and enjoy in the afternoon and be challenging a little bit.

AN: What advice and tips for success would you give to the young Saudi talents who would like to be the next Stan Wawrinka?
SW: It is all about the love of the game. It is all about the passion. Never forget why you started playing the game. It is a game, [so] you need to enjoy it. You need to enjoy going on the practice court. It has to be fun and that is the most important [thing].

AN: How did you start playing tennis? Why did you choose it in particular?
SW: My parents wanted my brother and I to play a sport outside school and we had a tennis court five minutes away and that is how we started [playing tennis].

AN: You are known for your serves and powerful backhands. How important is the physical aspect of your game?
SW: I practice a lot ever since I was young and I always enjoyed the fitness side, [which] is also important. It is my game to be powerful from the baseline and try to [forge] an advantage with my shots.

AN: Have you started thinking about a retirement date and the next chapter of your career?
SW: It is tough to answer this question. I’m close to the end of my career. I’ve got a few more years but as long as I feel great on the court and as long as my body is there, mentally I want to keep going. I enjoy what I’m doing and that is the most important [thing].

AN: How was the nickname “Stan the Man” coined? Is there a story behind that?
SW: It came long time ago when I was playing a big match in US Open in New York. The next day I was in the newspaper and they called me “Stan the Man” and that is how it started.


Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver proves childhood dreams can come true

Updated 21 November 2019

Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver proves childhood dreams can come true

  • Reema Juffali will make history this weekend when she competes in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, the support race to the Diriyah E-Prix
  • Reema Juffali: When I got my first car in Boston in the US I would just take it out on drives whenever I needed time to think or I was stressed

RIYADH: From playing with toy cars to becoming a professional racing driver is a dream for many children but one that few achieve.

However, for Reema Juffali of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the fulfilment of that childhood ambition will be especially poignant when she becomes the first woman from the Kingdom to compete in the Kingdom.

It will be yet another watershed moment for Saudi Arabia, as Reema takes to the track this weekend (on November 22 and 23) competing in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, the support race to the Diriyah E-Prix at the Diriyah Circuit, part of the epic Diriyah Season, a month-long festival of sport.

And for Reema it will be the latest chapter in a love affair with cars that began as a young child.

She said: “Somewhere in the album there will be pictures of me driving in my dad’s lap or waiting in the car on the driver’s seat making car sounds.

“I was always a very active child, I didn’t do ballet I did karate. I didn’t play with Barbies I liked little model cars so from a very young age. I liked things that weren’t simply classed as feminine. My parents encouraged me to go after what I wanted to do, I played in a football team, I played basketball, I played baseball, I tried all these different sports and I find happiness in sports.

“Cars was something though I was always interested in, I liked reading about them, what new cars were coming out, all the classic cars. It wasn’t until I until I went to college that I started watching and learning about racing. Ever since then it has been a question mark ‘how can I do this?’. 

“When I was my teens the movie Transformers came out and so my friend gave me a nickname of ‘Opty’ after Optimus Prime because she knew how much I liked cars.

“When I got my first car in Boston in the US I would just take it out on drives whenever I needed time to think or I was stressed so I nicknamed my car Opty too. Being behind the wheel is my happy place.”

Reema made history by becoming the first Saudi female race licence holder to compete in the TRD 86 Cup at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi in October last year, taking second place in the Silver Category and fourth overall. Her previous racing experience also includes the MRF Challenge in India.

That moment came just months after Saudi Arabia announced that women could drive as part of the Kingdom’s evolving social landscape. For Reema it was a pivotal moment.

She said: “I knew the day was going to come when women would be able to drive. If you had asked me when I was 12 I was adamant I was going to get behind the wheel, then I left and moved abroad and got the chance to drive and I thought how great it would be to drive at home.

“For me it wasn’t about the fact that women could drive, it was what driving brings, that freedom and that independence. It was an emotional moment, I had to celebrate with a drive and the first time I saw another women on the roads I waved to her. My sister asked if I knew her and I was like ‘no, I’m just so happy to see another woman driving’.”

Reema made one of her first appearances in the F4 British Championships at Brands Hatch last October. Just last month she was back at UK circuit driving for Double R Racing, the Woking-based team formed in 2004 by 2007 Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen and his race manager, Steve Robertson.

For the 27-year-old though competing in Saudi Arabia, on the Diriyah Circuit in the heart of the UNESECO World Heritage site, will be something special, especially competing in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, the support race to the opening double header for the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

She said: “I am very excited, I never thought this day would come, or at least I didn’t know when and it came a lot sooner than expected. I’m a year into racing and here I am now about to race at home which is an incredible feeling.

“My family are very happy and excited. I told them I was going to be racing in Saudi and its going to be a big thing for me and us and they were like ‘that’s nice’ and then when it was official I sort of dawned on them and there were like ‘oh my, are you ready for this?’ I think I am.

“I came to racing quite late in life, some people start karting at the age of six, they have a path for them, for me my path was go study, then go work and it wasn’t an option for me to drop it all and race. Thankfully I got the opportunity to try this itching passion that I had for cars and just drive on the tracks, and then just give it everything.

“That was last October and it’s been very positive since then. I have a lot of learning to do, it is still the beginning for me, but it’s just been an amazing experience for me. I want to be a better driver and grow, at the end of the day I love it and I want to improve, I am doing it because of that.”

Reema also hopes her debut in the Kingdom will inspire other young men and women to get behind the wheel and consider a career in motorsports.

She said: “With Formula E and the Saudi Dakar Rally it’s amazing to see what is happening with motorsport and the opportunities that are opening up for Saudi drivers, especially girls.

“For me connecting with other women is definitely a plus. Having other people to look up to, especially for me at a younger age, would have been amazing. Now I get the chance to influence and if I can do that for one gender great, if I can for both genders even better and I feel like I am doing that.

“The questions I am getting from a lot of people such as ‘how do you do this, how can I do this?’ are from both men and women. It is a whole new world of motorsports for everybody in Saudi Arabia and they just want to learn and understand how its going to work and how they can be a part of it.