Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open
Spain's Carlos Alcaraz returns the ball to Germany's Alexander Zverev during their 2022 ATP Tour Madrid Open tennis tournament men's singles final match on May 8, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 19 May 2022

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open

Teen machines: Alcaraz looks to join elite Grand Slam club at French Open
  • Nadal was the last teenage man to win a Slam — a feat which eluded his great rivals Djokovic and Federer

PARIS: At just 19, Carlos Alcaraz is bidding to become only the eighth teenager to win a Grand Slam men’s singles title at the French Open which gets underway at Roland Garros on Sunday.

AFP Sport looks at the seven men to have won majors while still in their teens:

• In 1974, Sweden’s reluctant superstar Borg won the first of his six French Opens having just passed his 18th birthday when he defeated Manuel Orantes 2-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1. Borg would win 11 majors, including five in a row at Wimbledon from 1976-1980 before retiring — for the first time — at 26. Borg was the first male tennis player to earn a million dollars in a season in 1979. “It’s tough when you’re No. 1. You don’t have any private life, you can’t even walk anywhere. I think that was one reason why I lost my motivation to play tennis,” said Borg when he quit.

• At 17, Sweden’s Wilander defeated Guillermo Vilas of Argentina 1-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-4 in a marathon four hours and 42 minutes French Open final in 1982 despite being unseeded. Wilander was widely hailed for his sportsmanship in his defeat of Jose Luis Clerc in the semifinals when he requested a replay of match point after a forehand from his opponent was called long. Wilander would eventually become a world No. 1, ending his career with seven Grand Slam titles.

• Becker burst on the scene with his maiden Wimbledon triumph in 1985 at the age of 17. His 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 win over Kevin Curren made him the tournament’s youngest men’s champion and its first unseeded victor. The German served and volleyed and dived right and left, enchanting the Center Court crowd. Becker would win six majors but he fell from grace last month when he was jailed in the UK after a bankruptcy trial.

• Sweden’s Edberg was 19 when he won his first Slam at the 1985 Australian Open, beating Wilander 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 having seen off Ivan Lendl in a marathon semifinal 6-7, 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 9-7. The elegant serve-and-volleyer won a second Australian Open in 1987 and also captured four more Slams at Wimbledon in 1988 and 1990 and at the US Open in 1991 and 1992.

• Chang became the youngest male player in history to win a Grand Slam tournament when he claimed the 1989 French Open at 17 years and three months. Chang defeated Edberg 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 having also knocked out world No. 1 Lendl in a 4-hour and 37-minute last 16 tie in which he was cramping and forced to serve underarm. He was the first American champion in Paris since Tony Trabert in 1955. The diminutive Chang was also runner-up at the 1996 Australian and US Opens.

• Just a month past his 19th birthday, ‘Pistol Pete’ won the first of his 14 Slams at the 1990 US Open, beating American compatriot Andre Agassi 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the New York final having seen off Lendl and John McEnroe in the previous two rounds. Sampras ended his career with 64 titles, with a majors haul made up of seven at Wimbledon, two at the Australian Open and five US Open triumphs. His last major was in New York in 2002, bringing the curtain down with another victory against Agassi.

• At 19, Nadal defeated Mariano Puerta in the 2005 French Open final, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5. It was his first major title and the first of a record 13 Roland Garros triumphs. The Spaniard, who now has 21 majors, won on his Paris debut, the first man to do so since Wilander in 1982. He was also the youngest champion since Chang in 1989. Interestingly, 2005 also saw the French Open debut of Novak Djokovic who made the second round where he retired against Guillermo Coria. Nadal was the last teenage man to win a Slam — a feat which eluded his great rivals Djokovic and Federer.

Hamilton calls for action after Piquet’s racist slur

Hamilton calls for action after Piquet’s racist slur
Updated 31 sec ago

Hamilton calls for action after Piquet’s racist slur

Hamilton calls for action after Piquet’s racist slur
  • Lewis Hamilton: ‘These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport’
  • Nelson Piquet’s daughter, Kelly, is Max Verstappen’s partner
LONDON: Lewis Hamilton said the “time has come for action” after being the subject of a racially offensive term used by three-time Formula One world champion Nelson Piquet.
Formula One and motorsport’s governing body the FIA condemned the 69-year-old Brazilian, who made the comments during a podcast.
“It’s more than language,” Hamilton tweeted. “These archaic mindsets need to change and have no place in our sport.
“I’ve been surrounded by these attitudes and targeted my whole life. There has been plenty of time to learn. Time has come for action.”
In a separate tweet, Hamilton posted in Portuguese: “Let’s focus on changing the mindset.”
Piquet, who won the world title in 1981, 1983 and 1987, was discussing an accident between Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on the first lap of last year’s British Grand Prix when he used the term.
His daughter, Kelly, is Verstappen’s partner.
“Discriminatory or racist language is unacceptable in any form and has no part in society,” Formula One said in a statement.
“Lewis is an incredible ambassador for our sport and deserves respect.
“His tireless efforts to increase diversity and inclusion are a lesson to many and something we are committed to at F1.”
In a statement, the FIA said: “The FIA strongly condemns any racist or discriminatory language and behavior, which have no place in sport or wider society.
“We express our solidarity with Lewis Hamilton and fully support his commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in motor sport.”
Hamilton, the only black driver on the grid, has been an outspoken campaigner for greater diversity in the sport.
The seven-time world champion regularly displayed “black lives matter” on his apparel and took the knee before races in the 2020 season following the murder of George Floyd in the USA.
Hamilton has also campaigned for LGBTQ+ rights and on environmental issues.
“We condemn in the strongest terms any use of racist or discriminatory language of any kind,” Mercedes, Hamilton’s team, said in a statement.
“Lewis has spearheaded our sport’s efforts to combat racism, and he is a true champion of diversity on and off track.
“Together, we share a vision for a diverse and inclusive motorsport, and this incident underlines the fundamental importance of continuing to strive for a brighter future.”
Hamilton is back in action on home soil this weekend for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title
Updated 28 June 2022

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title

Al-Hilal’s winning DNA: 5 things learned as Riyadh giants claimed 2021-22 Saudi Pro League title
  • Asian champions have completed remarkable turnaround since February to wipe away 16-point deficit on an Al-Ittihad team now left to rue season after looking certainties for championship

Riyadh: Al-Hilal are champions of Saudi Arabia once again, having at one point looked dead and buried as Jeddah rivals Al-Ittihad held a seemingly insurmountable 16-point lead over them.

But the Riyadh giants are not champions of Asia and the Kingdom for nothing and proved that they remain the country’s worthy champions.

The 2021-22 Saudi Professional League season ended on Monday night, and here are five things — and there could be many, many more — learned from the final action of the campaign.

1. Winning is in Al-Hilal’s DNA

Three successive title wins make it 18 in total. Love them or hate them – and there are plenty in both groups – there is no denying that Al-Hilal know how to win games, and titles.

Eleven victories out of the last 12 is an amazing run, especially when it came after a demanding season with FIFA Club World Cup and Asian Champions League commitments. They usually find a way to find a way.

The 2-1 victory over Al-Faisaly summed up what has been a dramatic campaign. There has been so much action in injury time this season, so many late winning goals and controversies, and Monday was no different.

Al-Hilal may win but they do not always make it easy. There was a goal in each half from Odion Ighalo, who was razor sharp and showed why he finished as the league’s leading goalscorer, but the men from Dammam grabbed a goal back and then there were plenty of nerves for Al-Hilal’s fans.

The game, and the season, ended after 100 minutes with the referee standing by the pitchside monitor looking at a possible penalty for Al-Faisaly. It was not given and that was that. It was a fitting way to end an amazing season.

2. Al-Ittihad will never forget this

This fact will be repeated for years to come; Al-Ittihad were 16 points clear of Al-Hilal in February and they ended up two points behind when it mattered.

Nobody could have predicted that Al-Hilal would take 33 points from the last 36 available but even so, the Tigers had it in the bag. Then they went and dropped 13 points from the last eight games and that is not the form of champions. The 0-0 draw with struggling Al-Batin in the final game of the season summed it all up.

They had so much attacking talent in Igor Coronado, Abderrazak Hamdallah, and Romarinho but they just could not make it happen and the game, similar to the season, petered out with disappointment. As well as the two recent defeats against the champions, coach Cosmin Contra will look back at that 4-4 draw with Al-Feiha in May, when the team threw away a 3-1 lead, as a turning point. It meant there were just five points from the final five games.

The wait for the title now stretches back to 2009. That hurts, as was demonstrated by the tears of goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe at the end, and this does too but, in football, there is always next season.

3. Al-Ahli make unthinkable history

A 0-0 draw at Al-Shabab resulted in Al-Ahli being relegated for the first time in their history. It is truly shocking that the three-time champions, the latest triumph coming just six years ago, and two-time Asian runners-up are now in the second tier.

Two years ago, they were third, then eighth, and now 15th – the drift has been coming. There were reports of dressing room unrest in the past, coaches coming and going, and then injuries at unfortunate times, and when you throw in a poor start with five points from the first seven games then maybe ultimate relegation should not come as such a big shock.

Had they won one of the four games they drew in the final five, things would have been different. This time even the reliable Omar Al-Somah could not save them despite a talented supporting cast that included Ezgjan Alioski, Carlos Eduardo, Abdulrahman Ghareeb, and many others.

For a club that has been drifting, it could be that relegation is the wake-up call they need, but maybe not. The next few weeks will be tough.

4. The relegation battle was quietly dramatic

Going into the final round of games there were seven teams who were genuinely threatened by relegation. It was an amazing position for the league to be in and there were so many twists and turns.

It was not quite the explosive last day that the neutrals had been hoping for as there were not that many goals, with only 14 scored over the eight games.

But there was quiet drama and tension. At any time, had Al-Ahli scored, they would have climbed out of the bottom three. If Al-Faisaly had managed one more, then they would have done the same. If Ettifaq had conceded just once against Al-Feiha then they would have gone down. Had Al-Ittihad scored then it would have meant the end for Al-Batin.

Rarely has there been so much at stake for so many teams going into the final seconds of the season. It has been a long season, more than 10 months, but it was alive right until the end.

5. Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab not far away

For much of the season, the two Riyadh teams were in touch at the top and it was only the amazing winning streaks, first from Al-Ittihad and then from Al-Hilal, that took them out of the hunt.

In the end though, Al-Nassr finished just four points behind the runners-up from Jeddah and six points behind the champions. With the club ready to appoint French coach Rudi Garcia, next season should be an interesting one, and there will be a lot of fans looking to see if the club can keep hold of Talisca, who scored 20 goals in his first season in Saudi Arabia. Recovering from injury, Pity Martinez has started to show the talents that made him a big-money signing back in 2020.

Al-Shabab know what it is like to lose big players after top scorer Odion Ighalo left for Al-Hilal at the end of January and a fourth-place finish seems about right as they lacked a little consistency. These third- and fourth-place teams need to keep their biggest talents and recruit well in the coming weeks. Then they should be ready for a title challenge next time around. This year, they were not far away.

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30
Lou Williams (#6) of the Atlanta Hawks shoots the ball during a game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 14, 2021. (Getty)
Updated 28 June 2022

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30

Tickets for NBA Abu Dhabi games 2022 featuring Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks on sale June 30
  • 4-time NBA Champion, Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal named official NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 ambassador

LONDON/ABU DHABI: The National Basketball Association and Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi have announced that tickets for the NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 will go on general sale on Thursday, June 30.

The games will feature the Atlanta Hawks and the 2021 NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks playing two preseason games at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, Oct. 6 and Saturday, Oct. 8, marking the league’s first games in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf.

Special ticket packages offering premium access, VIP experiences, hospitality, and local hotel accommodation will also be available for purchase at NBAEvents.com/AbuDhabi from June 30.

As part of the announcement, the league also named four-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame star Shaquille O’Neal as the official NBA Abu Dhabi Games 2022 ambassador.

In this capacity, O’Neal, who was selected to the NBA 75th anniversary team in October as the league tipped off its landmark 75th anniversary season, will attend the games, participate in youth development programming, and interact with local fans during the week.

The NBA will also become the first North American sports league to launch social media channels in Arabic on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@NBAArabic), providing comprehensive in-language news and content for fans in the region and around the world beginning June 30.

The Hawks currently feature two-time NBA All-Star Trae Young, 2020-21 NBA rebounding leader Clint Capela, and 2018 NBA All-Rookie Second Team members John Collins and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

The Bucks meanwhile have two-time Kia NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, three-time NBA All-Star Khris Middleton, and four-time NBA All-Defensive Team member Jrue Holiday. The two teams met in the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, with the Bucks going on to win their first NBA championship in 50 years.

The Abu Dhabi event will air live in the UAE and throughout the Middle East and North Africa on beIN SPORTS, The Sports Channel, and NBA League Pass, the league’s premium live-game subscription service. The games will reach fans in more than 200 countries and territories around the world on television, digital media, and social media.

They are part of a groundbreaking multiyear partnership between the NBA and DCT Abu Dhabi that earlier this year saw the launch of the first Jr. NBA Abu Dhabi League, a youth basketball league for 450 boys and girls aged between 11 and 14 from local schools in Abu Dhabi. The partnership also includes a variety of interactive fan events featuring appearances by current and former NBA players, a series of NBA FIT clinics promoting health and wellness, and an NBA 2K League exhibition event at Middle East Film and Comic Con.

The partnership will also see DCT Abu Dhabi, under the Visit Abu Dhabi banner, the tourism promotion initiative of the UAE’s capital city, serve as an official tourism destination partner of the NBA in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and China.

More than 220 male and female prospects from the Middle East – including five players from the UAE – have participated in Basketball Without Borders or NBA Academy, the league’s elite basketball development programs for top prospects from outside the US.

Since 2019, more than 500 boys and girls have also participated in the NBA Basketball School Dubai (UAE), a year-round, tuition-based basketball development program for six- to 18-year-olds.

Saudi-backed LIV Golf signs rising stars Matthew Wolff, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz

Saudi-backed LIV Golf signs rising stars Matthew Wolff, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz
23-year-old Matthew Wolff has quickly established himself among the game’s top competitors. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 June 2022

Saudi-backed LIV Golf signs rising stars Matthew Wolff, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz

Saudi-backed LIV Golf signs rising stars Matthew Wolff, Eugenio Chacarra and Carlos Ortiz
  • All three make their debut in Portland, the tour’s second event

DUBAI: The Saudi-backed LIV Golf company has announced that rising star Matthew Wolff, world number two amateur Eugenio Chacarra and international standout Carlos Ortiz are officially joining the tour and will tee off in Portland.

The field is now set for the LIV Golf Invitational Portland, the new organization’s second event of the season taking place from June 30 to July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Oregon. LIV Golf is funded by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.


One of golf’s longest hitters off the tee, the 23-year-old Wolff has quickly established himself among the game’s top competitors. An All-American at Oklahoma State University and winner of the 2019 NCAA Division I individual championship, Wolff turned professional in 2019 and secured his first win less than one month later. He has continued to make an impact within golf’s elite, reaching a career-best number 12 in the world in October 2020 and earning seven top-10 finishes, including runner-up at the US Open and fourth at the PGA Championship.

World ranked number two amateur Eugenio Chacarra will make his first appearance as a professional with LIV Golf. The 22-year-old is a two-time All-American at Oklahoma State University, where he was a finalist for both the Ben Hogan Award and the Haskins Award as the NCAA’s top collegiate golfer. The number one amateur from Spain, Chacarra made 14 collegiate starts in 2021-22, winning three times with six additional top-six finishes.

Ortiz, winner of four professional tournaments worldwide, has been a standout since turning professional in 2014. He has spent 80 weeks of his career ranked in the top 100 and reached 44th in the world in February 2021. Born in Guadalajara, Mexico and a collegiate golfer at the University of North Texas, Ortiz represented his country at the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

“Our impressive roster of LIV golfers continues to grow with incredible young talent and international stars. Matthew Wolff and Eugenio Chacarra have both made a name for themselves as two of golf’s most promising talents, exhibiting impressive success at an early age. I’m eager to watch them play alongside Carlos Ortiz, one of Mexico’s most consistent pros who along with many of our other golfers represents LIV Golf’s continued commitment to growing the game on a global scale,” said Greg Norman, CEO and commissioner of LIV Golf. “LIV Golf is providing new opportunities for the best players in the world to compete, and our field in Portland reflects that. We can’t wait to kick off our first US event with these incredible golfers.”

The Portland field will showcase nine of the last 21 major winners, four former world number one players and nearly half of its competitors currently ranked in the top 100. The global field represents 12 different countries and a combined 20 major titles, as well as future stars of the game who earned NCAA National Championships, US Amateur Championships and professional tour wins among their accomplishments. Players will compete in golf’s most exciting new format for $25 million and the chance to become the second individual and team champions for LIV Golf.

The LIV Golf Invitational Portland offer opportunities for golfers from around the world including the Asian Tour, DP World Tour, PGA Tour, Sunshine Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia and Japan Golf Tour, as well as leading players from The International Series, which launched in Thailand in March, and top finishers from the LIV Golf Invitational Series. LIV Golf will continue to reward players that compete and perform well in its events, with a broad spectrum of exemption categories designed to ensure it delivers new opportunities for international golfers, as well as pathways for amateurs and the next generation of leading players, into elite professional golf.

The 48-man field in Portland will play across 12 teams of four players each. Teams for Portland will be announced on Tuesday, June 28.

The LIV Golf Invitational Series launched June 9 to a worldwide audience showcasing its new, innovative format with more action, shotgun starts and no cut.

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’
Updated 28 June 2022

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’

Tennis star Ons Jabeur is ‘boosting sport in Arab and African countries’
  • Abundance of talent but development needed, says Emirati tennis pundit Khalid Al-Ali
  • Veteran commentator outlines his thoughts on Wimbledon title contenders this year

DUBAI: Only hours before Tunisian tennis superstar Ons Jabeur launched her Wimbledon 2022 campaign against Sweden’s Mirjam Bjorklund, she was confirmed as world number two, the highest ranking of her career.

It was also the highest ever for an African or Arab tennis player, female or male.

For Emirati tennis pundit Khalid Al-Ali, Jabeur and other female players from North Africa are helping to raise the profile and popularity of tennis like never before.

“You can split the Arab world in two, and the Maghreb countries, like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, in addition to Egypt, are very advanced in tennis,” he said. “As well as Ons, there is the Egyptian player Mayar Sherif, who has ranked in the sixties. And that is also proof that women’s tennis is more advanced at this point in time than the men’s, where no one has reached these levels.”

As a tennis lover, Al-Ali enjoys, in particular at this time of the year, the established traditions that Wimbledon holds dear, and the intense rivalry on court for the men’s and women’s titles, which is this year tinged by a possible changing of the guard and politics.

“Wimbledon started in 1877, it has such rich heritage,” he said. “Traditions such as wearing all white, and having no advertising hoarding around the courts, have been maintained until now. There are changes this year, however. Players used to enter the courts from the side but this year there is a new tradition and the players will be making their entrance from the middle of the court.

“Also, it’s the first time that Wimbledon’s center court has been opened for practice before the start of the tournament. Traditionally, no one was allowed to step on (center) court before the first official match, so those are two new additions.”

But perhaps the biggest change this year is one of personnel.

“For the first time in 24 years, Roger Federer will miss the championship,” said Al-Ali. “So that differentiates this edition, as does the banning of Russian players. For that reason, the ATP has withdrawn all points that would have been awarded, as they see that as politics interfering with sports.

In Federer’s absence, eyes will, once again, inevitably turn to reigning champion Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, now ranked third and fourth in the world.

“Djokovic has won the last three tournaments, and logically, on grass he is the first seed,” Al-Ali said. “After that as always, Nadal, even when we don’t consider him a favorite, imposes himself on the tournament like we saw in Roland Garros. Before Roland Garros he had lost in Roma to Denis Shapovalov, the Canadian.

“And there were doubts that it would be his last tournament, as his body can’t take the injuries anymore. But he won it and now his confidence is high, and he hopes to achieve something that Novak almost managed but couldn’t. That is the Golden Grand Slam, winning all four (majors) in the same year. He’s already won in Australia and Roland Garros. He enters Wimbledon with his dream still alive.”

“Last year Djokovic won the Australian Open, then Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and headed to the US Open with high hopes of achieving something that only Rod Laver, the Australian player, had managed. He did it twice, once before professionalism, which did not count in the record books, but he came back to do it again after the Second World War.”

Djokovic lost the US Open final in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev. That setback and the unsavory episode at the Australian Open — when he was detained because he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19 — were big blows to his morale.

“But he has a great chance to hit back at Wimbledon,” Al-Ali said. “Also among the favorites will be (Stefanos) Tsitsipas, (Matteo) Berrettini, who won two grass tournaments this year, and who was the losing Wimbledon finalist last year against Djokovic. You can narrow it down to those players.”

“Andy Murray returns as a wild card as he has low ranking,” Al-Ali added. “Physically he might not be ready, but playing in front of his crowd could see (him) adapt.”

In the women’s competition, Wimbledon welcomes back the great Serena Williams, who, with 23 Grand Slam titles, still has hopes of equaling the women’s record of 24 held by Margaret Court.

“Serena Williams returns as a wild card after a long absence,” said Al-Ali. “She played a doubles (game) with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne, where they reached the semifinal, but Ons had to withdraw through injury. It was a slight injury but she didn’t want to aggravate it ahead of Wimbledon.

“Williams looked heavier and was not the Serena we are used to. But she still has a shot or two that’s suited to grass, so she could possibly advance along with the favorites.

“Of course, (world number one) Iga Swiatek is among the favorites, and so is the Swiss player (Belinda) Bencic. And then there is the return of Petra Kvitova who won at Eastbourne, and has been Wimbledon champion twice.”

“In women’s tennis there are always surprises,” Al-Ali said.

Jabeur, though now the world number two is seeded third at Wimbledon, and the Emirati commentator has high hopes for her despite the heightened level of expectation.

“She reached the quarterfinals last year, which was her best performance in a Grand Slam,” said Al-Ali. “She is under a lot of pressure, but she is playing wonderfully, and her style suits grass. We might just see her in the final.”

Another run into the latter rounds, and her army of fans in the Arab world — not to mention her hero status — will continue to grow. For Al-Ali, it is hoped that her achievements, and those of other African Arabs, will one day spread to the rest of the Middle East.

“Geographical location always plays a role, whether in sports or any other field,” he said. “Proximity, costs, mentality, being close to the heart of this sport. It’s a sport that started in France and was then (organized by the) English. At its heart, there is a certain lifestyle, many sacrifices for the players, especially female players. But we see the Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians and Egyptians excel in this sport. And of course the size of the population is a factor. They have experienced this education earlier than in this region.”

In the UAE and the GCC, the popularity of tennis continues to grow, thanks to the increasing numbers of events taking place, he said.

“Thankfully, things are improving here. All the world’s best players come here to Dubai, so the popularity of the sport has increased,” said Al-Ali. “What Ons is doing is similar to what happened in China. China is a massive and great country, but tennis only became popular after Li Na won two Grand Slams, at Roland Garros and the Australian Open. After that, the country started to pay attention.”

“So we hope that with Ons Jabeur, and after the rise of the three Moroccans Karim Alami, Hicham Arazi and Younes El Aynaoui, more will come,” he added. “There is Abdullah Shelbayh from Jordan who is playing at junior level at Wimbledon, and has won the doubles there. He trains at Rafael Nadal’s academy, I have high hope for him.”

With the right backing and funding, Al-Ali is certain the future will see more Arab tennis players follow in Jabeur’s footsteps.

“We are always optimistic,” he said. “We have a beautiful academy in Fujairah, established by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, and I’m on the board of directors there. When Ons Jabeur was a junior she played in the tournament there after it entered the ITF ranks, and Alexander Zverev won at Fujairah as well.

“We are no strangers to organizing the best tournaments in this region, what we have to do now is introduce development programs, we don’t have any clear programs at the moment. Also there is a lack of equality in funding between sports. We have to make sure individual sports like tennis are backed just like football.”