Saudi Arabia eyeing regular international tennis as it gears up for first ever Diriyah Tennis Cup

Saudi Arabia eyeing regular international tennis as it gears up for first ever Diriyah Tennis Cup
Prince Abdulaziz, seen visiting the Diriyah Arena, said ‘we are keen to develop tennis in the Kingdom.’ (Supplied)
Updated 22 November 2019

Saudi Arabia eyeing regular international tennis as it gears up for first ever Diriyah Tennis Cup

Saudi Arabia eyeing regular international tennis as it gears up for first ever Diriyah Tennis Cup
  • Eight of the best men’s players in the world competing in the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup on Dec 12-14
  • Prince Abdulaziz – ‘We foresee the tournament growing and being part of Saudi Arabia’s future in the sport’

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has ambitions to bring international tennis to the Kingdom for years to come following next month’s inaugural $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup. On December 12, 13 and 14, eight of the world’s best men’s players will compete for the inaugural $3m Diriyah Tennis Cup at the custom-built Diriyah Arena – in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site, on the outskirts of Riyadh.

So far six names have been revealed, with two more big name ‘wildcard’ entries to come, but already organisers are looking to the future with the Diriyah Tennis Cup intended to be a springboard into having a regular place on the tennis calendar.

His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, Chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA) of Saudi Arabia, said: “We want to host international tennis in the Kingdom every year. We want to demonstrate our capabilities in hosting and organizing a successful international tennis event of this magnitude”.

“Personally, I am very excited that we have eight world class players competing at Diriyah Tennis Cup, this is the start of a new era for tennis in the kingdom, and we foresee the tournament growing and being part of Saudi Arabia’s future in the sport.”

The Diriyah Tennis Cup is part of the Diriyah Season, an epic month of showcase sports events being hosted by the GSA. The Diriyah Tennis Cup has confirmed six leading players to date for the inaugural tournament. This includes three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland as well as the current world number 5 and one of the game’s biggest rising superstars, Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

Talented world number 12, Fabio Fogini, who was the first Italian to win an ATP Masters 1000 title this year in Monte Carlo and highly-rated David Goffin (Belgium), the former world number 7 will also present in Diriyah.
The big-serving American John Isner, with over 10,000 aces on tour, and five-time ATP champion Lucas Pouille of France, an Australian Open semi-finalist this year complete the current line-up. Officials will name the final two players in the coming weeks. 

The Diriyah Tennis Cup is taking place at the 15,000-seater Diriyah Arena which was visited by HRH Prince Abdulaziz this week. The tournament will happen just a week after the same venue plays host to the Clash On The Dunes, the world heavyweight title fight between Andy Ruiz Jr and Anthony Joshua OBE.

Inspiring a new generation of tennis talent HRH Prince Abdulaziz, believes bringing the Diriyah Tennis Cup will also help fire up its following in the Kingdom, and one day help the nation produce its own champions.

“Today we are keen to develop tennis in the Kingdom,” he said: “It is a well perceived sport and there’s a strong platform for practicing and playing competitively in many cities with such cups and contests.

“By bringing eight of the very best players to this first tournament Saudi Arabia will put our young talent, our male and female tennis enthusiasts, in direct exposure with global standards, and witness these champions up close and live.

“That will be a great learning opportunity for them as well to benchmark where are they now and to start developing themselves professionally to aim for these standards, and in future, be part of the grand slams across the world.”

The Diriyah Season is a month-long celebration of sport, kicking off with Formula E, followed by the World Heavyweight title fight the ‘Clash On The Dunes’, the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the elite Diriyah Equestrian Festival. Tickets are now available at www.diriyahseason.sa


AFC Champions League groups to kickoff amid virus threat

AFC Champions League groups to kickoff amid virus threat
Updated 7 min 59 sec ago

AFC Champions League groups to kickoff amid virus threat

AFC Champions League groups to kickoff amid virus threat
  • Saudi Arabia’s Al-Wehda will enter qualification playoffs in March
  • 2021 is set to be the biggest yet with the group stage expanding from 32 to 40 teams

LONDON: The 2021 AFC Champions League group stage is set to start in April, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in line, if necessary, to play host to multiple games as the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) looks for ways to safely complete its flagship tournament in the middle of a global pandemic.

It will be the second successive year that the tournament has been affected by the coronavirus. With the experience gained in 2020 when Qatar stepped in to host the remainder of the group and knockout stage after the competition was postponed earlier in the year, the AFC is confident that all will go smoothly.

Last year’s edition was eventually won by South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai Horangi in December, but 2021 is set to be the biggest yet with the group stage expanding from 32 to 40 teams.

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Wehda will enter qualification playoffs in March, and if successful, will join Al-Nassr, Al-Ahli and 2019 champions Al-Hilal in the first round.

“The playoffs are scheduled to take place in March and the group stage in April,” an AFC official told Arab News. “We would prefer to host games in two or three cities in each region, but that depends on how the coronavirus situation develops. It may be that there are new rules put in place around Asia which mean that we will have to return to a single hub system.”

The continental competition is usually split into two geographic zones until the final. The group stage of the West Asian side of the tournament is set to take place over two weeks in the second half of April.

The eastern zone, which does not yet have a potential host nation and could again take place in the west, will start and finish
a week later.

Given what happened last year, the AFC is staying flexible on when and where the knockout stages will take place, especially as Asian national teams are expected to be busy with 2022 World Cup qualifiers in June. It is likely however that both east and west Asian teams will be mixed together from at least the quarterfinal stage onward.

The Champions League is not the only tournament affected by the global pandemic. On Friday, the Tajikistan Football Association announced that the AFC-U16 and U-19 Championships will be postponed.

The former was originally scheduled to take place in Bahrain last September and October before it was rearranged for March this year. It remains to be seen whether it happens at all, as the tournament was already planned to be the final edition of the U-16 competition, with the AFC moving to an U-17 version from 2023.

Saudi Arabia may have to wait to defend the AFC-U19 Championship that was won in 2018 as the tournament in Uzbekistan is also set to be, at the very least, postponed. Originally scheduled to be held last October, it was rearranged for March.

It is not only Asia that is striving to find ways to complete competitions in difficult circumstances. On Friday, FIFA announced that Auckland City had withdrawn from the Club World Cup that is set to kick off in Qatar in February. The Oceania champions will stay home due to travel restrictions put in place by the New Zealand government.

“FIFA has today been informed by Auckland City FC that, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and related quarantine measures required by the New Zealand authorities, the club will be unable to participate in the FIFA Club World Cup 2020,” the world governing body said in a statement.

“Despite FIFA’s regular exchanges with the club, New Zealand Football and the OFC in recent days, the requirements of the New Zealand authorities in relation to isolation and quarantine go beyond FIFA’s remit and, therefore, it was not possible to reach a solution.”

It means that Oceania’s representatives will miss their opening round showdown with Al-Duhail, representing the host nation, on Feb. 1. The Qataris will receive a bye to the second round and a match-up against either Al-Ahly of Egypt, South Korea’s Ulsan or Tigres of Mexico, the respective champions of Africa, Asia and CONCAFAF.

The draw will be made on Tuesday, with European representatives Bayern Munich and South America’s champions, to be determined on Jan. 30, placed in the semifinals.