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.


Dustin Johnson back to full fitness ahead of Saudi International title defense

Updated 25 min 15 sec ago

Dustin Johnson back to full fitness ahead of Saudi International title defense

  • World number 5, Johnson, counts last year’s 61 at the Royal Greens & Country Club as one of his ‘best rounds’
  • Johnson is joined by leading US pros — world number 1 Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed

RIYADH: The Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers returns to King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) from January 30 — February 2. Arab News caught up with the big-hitting Dustin Johnson ahead of the European Tour event at Royal Greens & Country Club.

How are you feeling going into the Saudi International after a short spell out with injury?
I’m feeling very good. My knee has recovered well during the off season and I am anxious to get out on the course again. I have been working hard on my game over the last month or so and I am ready to get back to competition. It was a fun event last year and somewhat close over those final few holes, which made it exciting.

You must be excited to return to Saudi after winning the competition last year — what stood out for you from the victory?
Yes, of course. It’s always nice to go back to return to a tournament where you have good memories and my 61 in the second round was one of the best rounds of my year. I was surprised at how good the course was in the first year of playing the event and the hospitality in the country was second to none.

What surprised you about the competition in Saudi Arabia last year and how would you sum up the experience in the country?
Nothing really surprised me about the competition because we all know that it was a world-class field. I loved playing here last year and the field is looking even stronger this year. It’s is great to see a few more Americans making the trip over, which just shows how the tournament is gaining momentum and acceptance.

Last year was the first time the competition was held in Saudi Arabia, do you expect bigger crowds this year and what part can fans play in a Championship?
It was great to see so many people coming to watch us play last year and I hope the turnout will be even bigger this year. The crowds were fantastic and with all of the music concerts also lined up for this year, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

There are more top players competing in the Championship this year – are you confident of recording another victory in Saudi?
I don’t worry about the competition and about defending the trophy and just try to focus on my own preparation. If I play my best golf, I know I’ll have a chance to defend. I have managed to defend a title once before in my career, which is always challenging, so I don’t put any extra emphasis on it and just approach it like any other week.

How important is it for golf to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bring the game into new markets?
It is always good to introduce the game in new markets and although I play the majority of my golf in the US, it is nice come across to the Middle East to compete against such a strong field. Golf Saudi has a really cool vision for the sport in the next ten years and, it will be great to come back to this event in years to come.

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?
It will be great to see more fans coming out to watch again this year. They are able to see what we go through on the course, how we decide which club to hit and experience the excitement of the competition, which is something you can’t really replicate on TV. It is always nice to interact with the fans, sign some autographs and hopefully improve the fans’ experience at the tournament.

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?
Just get out there and play and have fun. It’s a great sport that anyone can enjoy for a lifetime. There is more than one way to swing the club and if you watch a few different golfers this week at the Saudi International you will see this for your own eyes.