Ons Jabeur beats Aryna Sabalenka to reach her second Wimbledon final in a row

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur celebrates beating Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to win their women’s singles semifinal match in London, Thursday, July 13, 2023. (AP)
Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur celebrates beating Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to win their women’s singles semifinal match in London, Thursday, July 13, 2023. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 13 July 2023
Follow

Ons Jabeur beats Aryna Sabalenka to reach her second Wimbledon final in a row

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur celebrates beating Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to win their women’s singles semifinal match in London.
  • The 25-year-old from Tunisia already was the only Arab woman and only North African woman to get to a major final

WIMBLEDON: Ons Jabeur came back from a set and a break down to defeat Aryna Sabalenka 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday and reach the Wimbledon final for the second consecutive year.
This will be the third title match for Jabeur in the past five Grand Slam tournaments. The 25-year-old from Tunisia already was the only Arab woman and only North African woman to get to a major final.
So far, she is 0-2 at that stage after losing to Elena Rybakina at the All England Club last July and to Iga Swiatek at the US Open last September.
The sixth-seeded Jabeur’s victory Thursday, which came by collecting 10 of the last 13 games, prevented the second-seeded Sabalenka from replacing Swiatek at No. 1 in the rankings. Sabalenka came into the match with a 17-1 record at majors in 2023, including a trophy at the Australian Open.
Jabeur’s opponent for the championship on Saturday will be Marketa Vondrousova.
Vondrousova became the first unseeded women’s finalist at Wimbledon since Billie Jean King in 1963 by eliminating Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-3 earlier Thursday.
Vondrousova reeled off seven consecutive games in one stretch and then held off a brief comeback bid for the victory. She is ranked 43rd and reached the second Grand Slam final of her career after getting that far as a teenager at the 2019 French Open.
“I was crazy nervous,” said Vondrousova, who bowed her head and knelt at the baseline when the match was over. “I was nervous, actually, the whole match.”


Tennis, the latest sport on the rise in Saudi Arabia

Tennis, the latest sport on the rise in Saudi Arabia
Updated 30 November 2023
Follow

Tennis, the latest sport on the rise in Saudi Arabia

Tennis, the latest sport on the rise in Saudi Arabia
  • The game has been making its mark in the Kingdom’s sports evolution, so much that its nationwide popularity cannot be missed
  • Arij Almutabagani, president of the STF, has spearheaded the federation’s efforts to grow the sport

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has become one of the fastest-growing countries in world of sports, emerging not only as an international sporting hub, but also a center of activities, events, and spectacles.
From athletics, football, F1, boxing, basketball, and golf, many sports are driving unprecedented socio-economic transformation under Vision 2030. They are enriching lives, enhancing well-being, and presenting a whole new world of opportunity, paving the way for people to discover passions, pursue dreams, and realize potential.
Tennis has been making its mark in the Saudi sports evolution, so much that its nationwide growth and popularity cannot be missed.
As president of the Saudi Tennis Federation, Arij Almutabagani is one of the key figures leading the charge. Since assuming her position in 2021, she has spearheaded STF’s efforts to grow the sport across all levels, laying strong foundations for tennis and all involved to thrive.
Almutabagani’s primary aspiration is building a vibrant junior tennis scene. With 63 percent of Saudi’s over 32 million population under the age of 30 and with nationwide sports participation now at 50 percent, she is adamant that tennis can embrace the Kingdom’s youth opportunities.
“Our strategy is to nurture young players, develop infrastructure, and invest in grassroots initiatives because youth is the key to any sport’s long-term success,” she said. “We’re certainly on the right path. Our strategy is working and we’re seeing interest and participation increase.”
Almutabagani’s statements are backed by glowing statistics. Saudi today is home to 177 tennis clubs, up 146 percent since 2019. In the last four years, the number of registered players has increased by 46 percent to 2,300, and U14 players by 100 percent — from 500 to over 1,000.
STF also holds 40 national tournaments annually, including hosting three ITF Juniors tournaments in the past year, which marked the return of ITF events since the first was played back in 2022.
“Major strides have been taken and one of these was tennis being added to the school physical education curriculum earlier this year,” said Almutabagani.
STF’s partnership with the Saudi Sports For All Federation presented “Tennis For All” in 2022, a 16-week mass participation program to introduce tennis to a new generation of sports enthusiasts. Over 13,000 people were introduced to tennis in the first edition, with a higher figure in 2023.
This past April, “Tennis For All” was introduced in the Ministry of Education’s curriculum at 90 public schools, with STF training 170 physical education teachers to provide lessons. Participation more than doubled this time around, with an estimated 30,000 people.
“We’re targeting 200 schools in 2024 and 400 by 2025,” Almutabagani said. “Achieving this will support sustained growth as more tennis academies are launched and more national tennis centers are built. We already have 505 coaches and 182 officials in the Kingdom and we’ll be rolling out more opportunities for people to get involved.”
A sure catalyst for further sports transformation, Saudi Arabia currently hosts its first-ever professional tennis event — the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM. A global, modern, and innovative competition featuring the world’s best U21 players, the finals are currently taking place at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City from until Dec. 2.
Sanctioned by the ATP Tour and hosted by STF, this historic event marks the beginning of a five-year contract to bring the pinnacle of young global tennis talent to the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s top male tennis player, Ammar Alhogbani, has practiced with and played against some of the eight players competing in the Next Gen ATP Finals. He said: “The growth of tennis in Saudi Arabia and for Saudi Arabians has been exceptional in recent years, I’m blessed to be even a small a part of it. To now also have the first sanctioned ATP event in our backyard is an immensely exciting part of our next chapter.
“I’m sure having the best young players from around the world here in Jeddah will inspire future generations of Saudi to follow in their footsteps and encourage all Saudi’s players to come out and experience the event for themselves.”
Looking ahead, the value of Saudi Arabia’s sports event industry is growing by 8 percent per year and will reach $3.3 billion by 2024 — a $1.2 billion increase from 2018. Additionally, significant events investments are being made, with $2 billion committed to help sports grow by 2024.
“Tennis will become a big part of Saudi’s future sports event industry, and this will be the first of many professional tennis tournaments that we stage,” added Almutabagani.
“We eagerly anticipate welcoming tennis enthusiasts from across Saudi Arabia and beyond to witness the exhilarating matches and experience the innovation and excitement that the Next Gen ATP Finals will bring to Jeddah.”


History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event

History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event
Updated 29 November 2023
Follow

History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event

History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event
  • Arthur Fils, Flavio Cobolli, Luca Van Assche, Hamad Medjedovic come out on top at start of Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM

JEDDAH: Top seed Arthur Fils became the first ATP Tour winner on Saudi Arabian soil on Tuesday at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM.

Flavio Cobolli, Luca Van Assche, and Hamad Medjedovic followed suit with wins in the first day’s play at King Abdullah Sports City.

Fils and Luca Nardi made history in the opening session as the first ATP Tour players to play in Saudi Arabia.

The 19-year-old Fils, the top-ranked player in the finals, prevailed 2-4, 4-3(6), 4-2, 1-4, 4-2 in a stern five-set test to make a winning start in the Green Group.

After the match, Fils said: “It was a tough match. The first time in my life I’m playing first to four games. Things can change very quickly. I was leading two sets to one, had break points, and I was feeling very good. Then I lost a deuce point, and everything changed, but I’m really happy to win today.”

On Wednesday the Frenchman will face the other winner in the Green Group, Cobolli. The Italian stunned 2022 semi-finalist Dominic Stricker for a winning start on his debut at the Next Gen ATP Finals in four sets; 4-2, 3-4(7), 4-1, 4-2.

Switzerland’s Stricker is the only player at this year’s event to have competed at the innovative tournament before and has previous experience playing in Saudi Arabia at last year’s Diriyah Tennis Cup.

But Cobolli was not fazed, starting fast as he adjusted to the newly implemented no warm-up rule, part of a range of innovations being incorporated.

Cobolli said: “I warmed up for a lot of time today, so I was really hot on the court. I started the match really well. The courts are so fast, but I was faster (than Stricker). I played a really good match and I’m really happy.”

Van Assche joined fellow Frenchman Fils as a first-day winner in a physical four-set win over Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh. After splitting the first two sets that were filled with punishing, extended baseline exchanges, the tournament’s second seed broke clear of Shelbayh in the third and ultimately closed out the match 4-3, 3-4(5), 4-1, 4-1.

Shelbayh thrilled enthusiastic local Jeddah fans with his creative angles, net approaches, and regular drop shots but Van Assche’s slight edge in the backcourt was telling.

Van Assche said: “It was a tough match today against a very tough opponent. I know Abdullah very well, he’s an amazing player. He was almost at home with the crowd cheering for him. It was a good match for me and really tough from the beginning to the end.”

The final match of the day saw Serbian Medjedovic win a five-set thriller — 4-2, 4-3(3), 3-4(3), 3-4(5), 4-3(4) — against the American Alex Michelsen.


Next Gen ATP Finals stars sightsee in Jeddah ahead of tournament

Next Gen ATP Finals stars sightsee in Jeddah ahead of tournament
Updated 26 November 2023
Follow

Next Gen ATP Finals stars sightsee in Jeddah ahead of tournament

Next Gen ATP Finals stars sightsee in Jeddah ahead of tournament
  • Ahead of the first ATP-sanctioned event to be held in Saudi Arabia, the players took time to visit the historical site

LONDON: The stars of the Next Gen ATP Finals visited Al-Balad, the historic old town of Jeddah, for this year’s official group photo on Sunday.

Ahead of the first ATP-sanctioned event to be held in Saudi Arabia, the players took time to visit the historical site, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.

“We’ve had a really fun time,” said 19-year-old American Alex Michelsen. “Everyone’s been having a lot of laughs. People were great and to see the old city was really, really cool.”

On the tour, the players met local Saudi graffiti artist Maajed Ahmed who has designed a bespoke ATP Next Gen piece of street art on Al-Balad’s walls.

Jordanian Abdullah Shelbayh, who received a wildcard for the event, said he enjoyed spending time with his competitors in Jeddah ahead of the tournament, which starts on Tuesday.

“It was exciting to do this with the players, they are pretty funny guys,” he said. “It was good to spend some time together outside of competition.”

Frenchman Arthur Fils, who won his maiden tour-level title in Lyon earlier this season, said Jeddah was a “great city,” adding the “people are very welcoming, I am liking it.”

Fils’ countryman Luca Van Assche practised for the first time in Jeddah on Saturday before visiting the city.

“It is an incredible experience for us,” he said. “I have never been here so it is a new country for me and civilisation and I am happy to be here to see some of the city. It is very beautiful.”

Two Italians, Luca Nardi and Flavio Cobolli, will make their debuts at the 21-and-under event. Both had fun sightseeing and playing rooftop tennis.

“It is very nice here,” Nardi said. “We are having a very good day visiting the city. I like it and the people are very nice. My first time playing tennis on a roof. It was very nice and seeing kids come. It was a nice atmosphere.”

Cobolli said: “It was a great day and I’m very happy to be here with the Next Gen class.”

Seven of the eight competitors are tournament debutants, with the exception of 2022 semifinalist Dominic Stricker.

“It was a great tour,” Stricker said. “We saw a few things of Jeddah. Seeing the old buildings and taking pictures. It is a good event and I am looking forward to playing.”


Draw announced for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Saudi Arabia

Draw announced for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Saudi Arabia
Updated 26 November 2023
Follow

Draw announced for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Saudi Arabia

Draw announced for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Saudi Arabia
  • Season-ending tournament, presented by NEOM, to be staged at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah

JEDDAH: The draw for the Next Gen ATP Finals, starting in Saudi Arabia next week, has been made.

The season-ending tennis tournament, presented by NEOM, will be staged at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah from Nov. 28 with the final taking place on Saturday, Dec. 2.

The draw, that took place on Saturday night, was divided into two groups. The red group will have Luca Van Assche, Alex Michelensen, Hamad Madjedovic and Abdullah Shelbaya while the greens will consist of Arthur Fils, Dominic Stricker, Flavio Cobolli and Luca Nardi.

The tournament has been organized by the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Tennis Federation, that signed a partnership with ATP for a period of five years until 2027.

The top eight players aged 21 or under in the 2023 ATP Tour qualified for the event, although there have been withdrawals as world No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz and world No. 8 Holger Rune (both 20) will not feature as they competed at the ATP Finals.

The tournament prize pot will be a record $2 million, with the champion at this year’s event set to earn $514,000.

Three matches at this year’s Next Gen ATP Finals will be worth more than $100,000. Each semi-final victory will be worth $113,500 and the championship match will yield the winner $153,000. The participation fee for each player at the event is $150,000.


Jordanian tennis star Abdullah Shelbayh ‘honored’ to compete in Jeddah Next Gen ATP Finals

Jordanian tennis star Abdullah Shelbayh ‘honored’ to compete in Jeddah Next Gen ATP Finals
Updated 25 November 2023
Follow

Jordanian tennis star Abdullah Shelbayh ‘honored’ to compete in Jeddah Next Gen ATP Finals

Jordanian tennis star Abdullah Shelbayh ‘honored’ to compete in Jeddah Next Gen ATP Finals
  • Highest ranked Arab male player urges fans to come and support him during Nov. 28–Dec. 2 tournament
  • The only Arab, Shelbayh is one of eight under-21 players competing

JEDDAH: Jordan’s 20-year-old international tennis player Abdullah Shelbayh has urged Arab spectators to come and cheer him on as he competes in Jeddah’s Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM next week.
Having just turned 20 on Nov. 16, Shelbayh will be one of eight players to compete in the under-21 event at the Next Gen ATP Finals from Nov. 28-Dec. 2, a media statement said on Saturday.
Competing against the elite from his worldwide peer group in Saudi Arabia will be “a special moment” for Shelbayh, who alongside stars of the future Arthur Fils, Dominic Stricker, Luca Van Assche, Flavio Cobolli, Alex Michelsen, Hamad Medjedovi and Luca Nardi, will battle it out for global glory and a $514,000 top prize.
Arab support will “mean the world” to Shelbayh, who is urging as many spectators as possible to attend this year’s event at King Abdullah Sports City.
“In the tournament, I think I’ll need the support from the Arab world during the week,” says the 20-year-old, who reached the Wimbledon Junior doubles final in 2021.
“I’ll be depending on them, honestly. It’ll be very special for me to see Arab fans watch me play there.”
“In most countries in the Arab world, tennis is not as developed a sport,” said Shelbayh.
“But for me as a Jordanian, as an Arab as well, to be playing in such a special event is an honor. It’s a great way for me to show to the world — the Arab world and the whole world — that we can have talent and special players from our region.”
Born in Amman, Shelbayh is ranked 187th in the world by ATP, making him by far the region’s highest ranked male — as well as the first Jordanian tennis player to achieve an ATP world ranking.
The success of Tunisian star Ons Jabeur — the former world No.2 and three-time Grand Slam finalist who is the highest ranked Arab tennis player in both WTA and ATP rankings history — has sparked interest in tennis in the region.
Shelbayh, who describes Jabeur as having done “wonders” for tennis in the Arab world, hopes he can prove just as, or even more, inspirational as he embarks on his professional career.
“I hope I will be inspiring many young kids from the Arab world to play this sport,” said the Jordanian, who, after moving from his homeland aged 14, trained at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain. He then spent a year playing at the University of Florida before turning professional.
Established in 2017, previous tournaments took place in Milan before an agreement was sealed for Jeddah to host the Next Gen ATP Finals from at least 2023 to 2027.