Saudi-born tennis players to battle it out as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup

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Updated 10 December 2019

Saudi-born tennis players to battle it out as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup

  • Michael Mmoh of USA and Ammar Al-Haqbani of Saudi Arabia to play
  • Both Saudi-born players will feature on the same court that will host big name global superstars

RIYADH: Two of the most exciting Saudi-born tennis stars will go head-to-head when in a showpiece exhibition match as part of Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco.

Michael Mmoh (USA) and Ammar Al-Haqbani (KSA) – both 21 – will compete in front of an eager home crowd ahead of the final match of the $3 million tournament that has attracted eight of the world’s best players and the eyes of world tennis.

The special exhibition match will take place at 2pm Saturday, December 14th at the Diriyah Arena ahead of the final’s day of the Kingdom’s inaugural international tennis event.  

Both Saudi-born players will feature on the same court that will host big name global superstars, including three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka, big-hitting US champion John Isner, and 2019’s most exciting breakthrough player, Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

American Michael Mmoh said: “I can’t wait to be coming back to Saudi Arabia and play in front of the local fans. It’s going to be a very special experience for me. 

“Having some of the best players in the world coming to the Kingdom can really inspire new fans to pick up a racquet and get on a court for the first time and play this great game.”

Ammar echoed that view, saying: “The Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco will have a significant impact on tennis in Saudi, especially for local tennis lovers and young talents who want to be professionals.

“Watching closely as these big names compete at the Diriyah Arena will be a huge inspiration for them to work more and build their professional path  in order to compete on the global stage in the future.”

Named after basketball icon Michael Jordan, Michael Mmoh was born in Riyadh; his father Tony – who peaked at world number 105 – Nigerian, who was a former Saudi-Arabian Davis Cup captain, and his mother from Ireland but an Australian citizen. When leaving the Kingdom aged 13, Michael’s first big move within the tennis world was, when he enrolled in the prestigious IMG Academy student-athlete school in Bradenton (Florida).

That decision and the hard work that followed paid off, with Michael climbing his way to world number two in the junior rankings. By 2018, he had broken into the Top 100 men’s players worldwide. Injury hampered his 2019, but it’s a year he hopes to end with a bang at Ad Diriyah as he closes back in on the Top 100 and seeks to add to his sixth ATP Challenger Tour titles in 2020.

His opponent Ammar Haqbani has followed just as interesting a path. One of three tennis-playing children of US-based Saudi diplomat Faleh Haqbani, Ammar started his tennis career aged five years old. He participated in his first United States Tennis Association (USTA) competition three years later, later scaling the heights to become the seventh best player on the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic section standings, and 135th globally in the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) ranking.

Ammar is a leader in the Saudi national team in the Davis Cup since 2015 and has been a dominant figure in GCC regional tournaments for seven years. He was also the first Saudi Arabian player to win a gold medal in an international tennis competition.

Held on the outskirts of Riyadh, the three-day Diriyah Cup tournament will welcome eight leading ATP players: Stan Wawrinka (Switzerland), John Isner (USA), Daniil Medvedev (Russia), David Goffin (Belgium), the Frenchmen Gaël Monfils and Lucas Pouille (France), Fabio Fognini (Italy), and Jan-Lennard Struff from Germany.

The Cup is one of several sporting spectacles taking place as part of the Kingdom’s 2019 Diriyah Season festival, which has already featured the Clash of the Dunes heavyweight boxing bout between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.

Its 15,000-seater venue is set upon the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ad Diriyah, where the ancient mud-wall city will offer a breath-taking backdrop for three-days of hard-court tennis.


Ryder Cup legend Garcia has Saudi International in his sights

Updated 24 min 26 sec ago

Ryder Cup legend Garcia has Saudi International in his sights

  • ‘Since I have been married and had my daughter Azalea, I have felt much more relaxed in life, both on and off the course’
  • ‘Whenever I am on the course, I am always trying to play my best golf with the aim of winning the event, wherever I am playing’

JEDDAH: Spanish superstar golfer Sergio Garcia, known as El Niño, will be back in the Kingdom next week to once again tee it up against the world’s best at the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers (January 30 – February 2).

Garcia is one of Europe’s finest golfers with a stellar career of 35 worldwide wins including a maiden major triumph at the 2017 Masters at the iconic Augusta.

Garcia wrote his name into the history books at the 2018 Ryder Cup, becoming the record points scorer in the sport’s biggest team event. Garcia has made nine appearances in the Ryder Cup and is victorious in six of them. Garcia speaks about new priorities in his life since turning 40, making amends in Saudi Arabia and golf’s life lessons.

How important is it for golf to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bringing the game into a new market?

It is really important for golf and also for the European Tour. We visit so many different countries during the year and it is always nice to see a new part of the world. It is going to be a very strong event again with so many world-class players competing for the title and I am looking forward to coming back.

What are your thoughts on returning back to Saudi Arabia after last year?

I am really excited to be coming back to the Saudi International this year. I feel terrible about what happened following last year’s disqualification. I want to go back and show my respect – I love the people there and they wanted me to come back. So that was an easy decision, and I’m excited to go back there. Show myself, show the true Sergio, and show them my respect and try to play the best that I can and hopefully have a great tournament. The event has a welcoming feel to it and everyone there makes you feel so comfortable from the clubhouse staff, to the hotel to the organizers, so I am excited. The people I met last year are fantastic and their hospitality is very warm and welcoming.

Many people in Saudi Arabia will not have attended a golf championship. What can they expect, and what do fans get from watching the golf live and up close that is just impossible to experience through the TV?

Last year, the fans were great and I hope it will be even better this year. The fans are part of the event and if there were no fans, golf wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun to play. They are a part of the event as much as us guys playing, and so us players hope to put on a good show for them this week.

More young people in Saudi Arabia are watching sport or taking up sport. What would you say to encourage them to take up golf and what can they learn from the sport?

Golf is obviously so new in the region but I hope that from seeing the world-class golf on show during the week, the local fans have a think about giving it a try. There are lots of fun putting and chipping games going on in the entertainment zone which are great fun. Working hard to succeed in the game can teach you to have faith and confidence in yourself as well as never giving up.

At New Year you posted on Twitter a toast to your last decade, which mentioned your marriage and the birth of your first daughter (and imminent arrival of first son!). These are three huge, brilliant milestones: how have they impacted you as a golfer, on and off the course?

Since I have been married and had my daughter Azalea, I have felt much more relaxed in life, both on and off the course. Family provides you with a feeling that is so amazing and they become priority in life. They support me on and off the course and they have given me more dedication to work hard and achieve my goals, for them.

For many of your fans, it was you winning your first major title – which came at the 2017 Masters – that was the highlight of their golfing decade…something you also mentioned in your New Year tweet! Nearly three years on now, how – if in any way – did that win change you as a golfer?

For sure, it was the best moment in my career, but it is closely rivalled by all of the years playing in the Ryder Cup. Holing that putt in the playoff at Augusta felt amazing and it is a moment I will never forget. Whenever I am on the course, I am always trying to play my best golf with the aim of winning the event, wherever I am playing.

You’re a regular competitor in the Middle East, playing in the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi most years. How much do you enjoy the golf on offer in this part of the world?

I really enjoy playing out here in the Middle East. I love playing all of the courses out here and they all provide us golfers with an enjoyable different challenge each time we play. The courses are always pristine, the weather is perfect and with Saudi Arabia being added to the Middle East schedule, I am looking forward to another week I can enjoy out here to start my season.

A trio of Saudi golfers will be playing in the Saudi International. What would it mean to golf to see a big name, major-competing player come out of the Middle East?

It would great to see. There are so many good golfers on the tour from all over the world and to have a new face would be great for everyone. When a new player comes on the tour, it brings a new challenge for all of us, so I hope there will be more golfers from here, to come and challenge us.