RIYADH: A Saudi former tennis player and his three children are carrying the hopes of the Kingdom’s promising future in tennis.
The Haqbanis - Ammar, Saud and Yara - have staked a claim for a place for Saudi Arabia in international tennis, having dominated across the age groups in the US where the family resides and where father Faleh works, as a diplomat.
Ammar, the oldest of the trio, was selected to participate in the inaugural edition of the $3 million Diriyah Tennis Cup, which takes place in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diriyah on the outskirts of Riyadh as part of the month-long Diriyah Season.
Ammar, 21, will play an exhibition match on the official schedule of Diriyah Tennis Cup and he has no doubts over the massive role the Kingdom’s first ever international tennis tournament can play locally in the development of the game at a grassroots level.
“Diriyah Tennis Cup 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 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,” said the Riyadh-born athlete who moved to the United States at the age of one.
Having started his tennis career at five years old, Ammar participated in his first United States Tennis Association (USTA) competition three years later. He reached as high as seventh position on the USTA’s Mid-Atlantic section standings and 135th globally in the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) ranking.
Besides captaining the Saudi national team in Davis Cup since 2015, Ammar has dominated the GCC regional tournaments for seven years. He also won the Kingdom’s first ever gold medal in an international tennis competition.
Saud, the middle child, won his first tennis tournament at the age of seven before going on to clinch an impressive 73 gold medals in USTA competitions. He declined the chance to represent his birth country, the US, in favor of Saudi Arabia.
Despite being only 16, Saud is already playing for the senior national team and became the youngest Saudi player to compete in Davis Cup. His cabinet trophy has three Arab championship titles, two Asian titles and nine GCC titles across the different age groups.
While succeeding on the court, Saud believes the impact of tennis goes beyond the sporting aspect. “Tennis is a great one-man sport that sharpens the personality and teaches a lot of discipline and respect. It makes a real gentleman or respectful lady.”
Yara, the youngest of the trio, started playing tennis aged three and has won 18 USTA medals in her career so far. The 14-year-old became the first female Saudi tennis player to sign for a Saudi club and the first to win an international match for the kingdom.
She made history recently when she entered the ITF ranking in another first for a female Saudi tennis player and she can’t wait to watch some of the world’s best professionals take to the court of Diriyah Arena. “I am so excited to come and watch such big names competing at Diriyah Tennis Cup in our country and in front of our people.”
Faleh was full of praise for the work done by the organizers of the Diriyah Tennis Cup, which he said was a “well-timed smart initiative” that would put Saudi tennis on the right track. “I am confident that it will be a great success.”
“Hosting a tennis cup with international standards and eight of the biggest names to compete in Saudi Arabia is a sign of even better things to come for tennis in the kingdom,” Faleh added.
A former tennis player himself, Faleh certainly has an eye for talent as his three children all started playing tennis at some point between the young ages of three and five.
“Parents should observe their kids starting from the age of three to five years old. This is the best age to discover your kid’s talent and it should be nurtured and supported starting up until 15 years old. Otherwise, it will be lost,” the father said.
“I am sure there are a lot of local talents in Saudi who might be way better than my kids. Parents have a key role in exploring their kids’ talent and developing their skills to become of international caliber,” the Saudi diplomat added.
Staged at the outdoor hard-court Diriyah Arena, Diriyah Tennis Cup features eight of the world’s top 20 players in men’s tennis.
Eight world class players are confirmed to step on court in Diriyah with the three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka and highly rated world No. 11 David Goffin of Belgium taking part.
Joining them are the big-serving American John Isner, who has over 10,000 aces on tour, and five-time ATP champion Lucas Pouille of France, who was an Australian Open semi-finalist this year. Current world No. 5 Daniil Medvedev wraps up the confirmed line-up, with the final two names to be announced soon.
Talented world number twelve Fabio Fogini, the first Italian to win an ATP Masters 1000 title this year in Monte Carlo is playing as well.
Eight-time ATP Tour winner Gaël Monfils was recently revealed; the world number ten will bring his unique style of play to the cup. The German number 2 Jan-Lennard Struff, who is one of the rising stars in tennis with a career-high 35 singles wins in 2019 and a current ATP ranking of 35 has joined to complete the roster.