Saudi tennis chief plans sport’s growth in Kingdom, praises Ons Jabeur’s impact

Saudi tennis chief plans sport’s growth in Kingdom, praises Ons Jabeur’s impact
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Almutabagani's priority is to imporve tennis at youth level in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
Saudi tennis chief plans sport’s growth in Kingdom, praises Ons Jabeur’s impact
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Saudi Tennis Federation (STF) president Arij Almutabagani was in demand at Wimbledon 2023. (Supplied)
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Updated 25 August 2023

Saudi tennis chief plans sport’s growth in Kingdom, praises Ons Jabeur’s impact

Saudi tennis chief plans sport’s growth in Kingdom, praises Ons Jabeur’s impact
  • Arij Almutabagani: ‘My primary concern is junior tennis because these kids are the future’

When Saudi Tennis Federation president Arij Almutabagani attended the iconic Wimbledon Championships in 2022, her sojourn to southwest London was quiet and uneventful. Fast forward 12 months and it was a different story.

In the buildup to the 2023 tournament, reports surfaced that the Association of Tennis Professionals, who run the men’s professional tour, were in talks with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund about a substantial new investment akin to the organization’s much-publicized foray into golf.

Suddenly, Almutabagani was in demand. 

“The announcement of the ATP and PIF discussions changed things very quickly,” Almutabagani told Arab News. “The experience at Wimbledon this year was different. People were asking about what is happening, and of course increased the interest in potentially hosting events in Saudi Arabia.

“This felt like such a positive development and shows that the work of the past few years and the support of our Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, has led to this moment. Now it is time for tennis to play a more important role in Saudi Arabia and there is huge potential for us to build the sport.”

It is a build that requires strong foundations and, in a nation so dominated by football, Almutabagani has been doing her utmost to lay a solid base for tennis since her appointment as STF president on a four-year term in 2021. She quickly put together a board to support her and set about growing the sport of tennis from the bottom up.

“My primary concern is junior tennis because these kids are the future,” Almutabagani explained. “We want to develop players who can enjoy tennis for their whole lives and show them that there are many ways to be part of tennis — not just as an amateur or professional player but as a coach, an administrator, an event organizer.

“Our focus is not only on big professional events right now because that won’t benefit our players. It is a strategy based on developing young players — we want to invest in grassroots initiatives that will help tennis grow in Saudi Arabia more and then, once that is in place, anything is possible.”

Almutabagani’s main challenge is moving tennis into the mainstream in the Kingdom. When she was first introduced to the sport it was at Saudi Arabia’s only tennis club, then located behind the US Embassy in Jeddah.

Seven-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl was one of her early heroes before Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal emerged to earn her admiration. The latter’s academy in Mallorca was attended by both her sons. Hers is a family of tennis lovers, but Almutabagani understands that she is very much the exception, not the norm, in Saudi Arabia.

A lack of courts is at the heart of tennis’ previous failure to garner mass appeal in the Kingdom, though the STF are working to rectify this and create a database of bookable facilities. Perhaps most importantly of all, tennis has now made it on to the physical education curriculum of many schools.

“This was a big step with the Ministry of Education that we launched in April,” Almutabagani said. “It was important that they play in school time because, if it was after hours, many kids would not join as they don’t already know about tennis. This way, more of them are exposed to it and it’s great to see how popular it has been already.

“We’ve delivered workshops to teachers in 90 schools across Jeddah, Riyadh and Dammam, as many knew the theory of tennis but not the practical side of things. It’s been moving quickly and hopefully we can further increase the number of the schools.”

As well as positive experiences of playing, children also need sporting role models to inspire them. The emergence of Tunisian superstar Ons Jabeur has come at the perfect time, according to fellow STF board member Fatima Batook, who is responsible for the development of girls’ tennis in Saudi Arabia.

“Talking about Ons just gives me goosebumps,” Batook said. “I watched the Wimbledon final with a group of our Saudi girls, aged between 10 and 15, and seeing her play honestly just gives them so much hope.

“It’s not just about being a great tennis player but it is about how to carry yourself with dignity, how to do your best. Our Saudi girls see Ons on and off the court and it convinces them that they could do it too — they can visualize that anything is possible.”

Almutabagani first met a 17-year-old Jabeur in the UAE when she won the Emerging Arab Athlete prize at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Creative Sports Awards in 2012. The Tunisian’s coach, compatriot Issam Jellali, even previously spent some time coaching the STF president’s children. She, too, feels the power of Jabeur’s influence.

“I think the success of Ons will help take all the girls in the Arab world to the next level,” said Almutabagani. “It would be great to bring her to Saudi Arabia because she is an amazing ambassador for tennis and her story is just one that other Arab girls can relate to.

“And from a Saudi tennis perspective, it always makes me think that if Tunisia can do it, I know we can too. Tunisia has a great tennis infrastructure now and hosts more tournaments than any other country in the region, across every age group and level. This is a great blueprint for us.”

Last year, Saudi Arabia hosted an International Tennis Federation World Tennis Tour Juniors event in Jeddah for the first time, and on Thursday it was confirmed that the Kingdom has won its bid to host the season-ending Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah from 2023 to 2027.

The tournament, which brings together the best men’s players aged 21 and under, was won in 2021 by current men’s world No. 1 and reigning Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz.

In October, Saudi Arabia will for the first time send a team to compete in the Billie Jean King Cup, the world’s largest international team competition in women’s sport.

These developments appear to be a sign that the sport is being taken seriously in Saudi Arabia and Almutabagani is confident that the prospects for tennis are now firmly on an upward trajectory.

“It is clear to me that tennis is really on Saudi Arabia’s priority list as a sport now so I have a lot of hard work to do,” Almutabagani said, smiling. “It’s been soccer for a very long time, then we saw golf and now is the time for tennis.

“The moment for tennis is here and we really need to build on it. If I can help even just 1 percent to take tennis to the next level in Saudi Arabia I will be happy because it’s just such a great sport that has given so much to me and my family.”

Bayern thrashed by Eintracht Frankfurt in Bundesliga

Bayern thrashed by Eintracht Frankfurt in Bundesliga
Updated 19 sec ago

Bayern thrashed by Eintracht Frankfurt in Bundesliga

Bayern thrashed by Eintracht Frankfurt in Bundesliga
BERLIN: Bayern Munich suffered a jolt to their title defense, losing their first league game of the season 5-1 in Frankfurt and handing Bayer Leverkusen the chance to open a six-point lead at the top of the Bundesliga.
In a wet and wild contest in Frankfurt, the hosts raced into an extraordinary 3-0 first-half lead, with Omar Marmoush, Junior Dina Ebimbe, and Hugo Larsson scoring the goals as Dino Toppmoeller’s side outmuscled a timid Bayern.
Joshua Kimmich dragged Bayern back into the match just before half-time but French midfielder Ebimbe had other ideas, capping a scintillating counter-attack after a mistake by Dayot Upamecano to make it four.
Ansgar Knauff added a fifth to put the game out of reach for Thomas Tuchel’s side to complete a memorable performance for Frankfurt, who become the first team to score five goals against Bayern in the first 60 minutes of a league game since Frankfurt themselves, in 1975.
Leaders Bayer Leverkusen travel to third-place Stuttgart on Sunday on a weekend when six of the Bundesliga’s top seven face each other.
Union Berlin won their first game since August 26 with a 3-1 victory over Borussia Moenchengladbach ensuring a winning start in the Bundesliga under new coach Nenad Bjelica.
The Croatian coach ran down the touchline to join the celebrations with his players as the team climbed to 15th.
Elsewhere, Werder Bremen arrested a four-game winless slump with a 2-0 win over Augsburg, secured by Niklas Stark’s first-half strike and Marvin Ducksch’s, midway through the second.
Heidenheim edged out Darmstadt with a 3-2 win in a meeting of two of the newly-promoted strugglers. Jan Schoeppner scored twice for Heidenheim, which leaves Darmstadt winless in seven Bundesliga games.
Freiburg sneaked a 1-0 win in Wolfsburg ahead of the day’s headline clash between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.

’Great feeling’ for Salah after landmark Liverpool goal

’Great feeling’ for Salah after landmark Liverpool goal
Updated 19 min 24 sec ago

’Great feeling’ for Salah after landmark Liverpool goal

’Great feeling’ for Salah after landmark Liverpool goal
  • Salah’s landmark strike inspired Liverpool’s fightback from a goal down to win 2-1 at 10-man Crystal Palace
  • Salah’s 14th goal this term made him the fifth player to score 200 for Liverpool in all competitions

LONDON: Mohamed Salah admitted his 200th Liverpool goal was a “great feeling” as the Egypt star urged his side to do “something special” in the Premier League title race.
Salah’s landmark strike inspired Liverpool’s fightback from a goal down to win 2-1 at 10-man Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side stole the points thanks to Harvey Elliott’s stoppage-time winner.
But it was Salah’s deflected equalizer following Jordan Ayew’s dismissal that sparked Liverpool’s escape act.
Salah’s 14th goal this term made him the fifth player to score 200 for Liverpool in all competitions after Ian Rush (346), Roger Hunt (285), Gordon Hodgson (241) and Billy Liddell (228).
“The most important thing was that we won the game. It’s a great feeling. I’m happy for the record and that we won the game,” Salah said.
Liverpool left Selhurst Park on top of the table, although second-placed Arsenal would reclaim pole position with a win at Aston Villa later on Saturday.
Regardless of Liverpool’s position by the end of the weekend, Salah sees signs they can win the club’s first title since 2020.
“I see the mentality to keep fighting until the end. We keep doing that. We have a new team now because there’s six or seven players,” he said.
“We need to give them advice. They’re learning a lot and they’re really nice. We can do something special this year.”
Saluting the crucial contribution of substitute Elliott, Salah added: “He’s a good kid. he’s learning. I like to push him in the gym.
“He will have a good career. If he wants to speak then just come to me.”
The young midfielder insisted he has already learned plenty from Salah.
“My finish today just sums up what I’ve learned off him,” he said.
“If I spoke about the influence he’s had on me then everyone would get bored!“
On Liverpool’s title chances, Elliott added: “We’re going in the right direction. If we’re contenders at the end of the season then let’s go for it.
“The aim is to win the Premier League.”

Saudi Games medalists awarded

Saudi Games medalists awarded
Updated 09 December 2023

Saudi Games medalists awarded

Saudi Games medalists awarded
  • Athletes from across the Kingdom clinched medals in chess, rowing and judo at the Saudi Games
  • The award ceremony was held at Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex Swimming Hall

RIYADH: Vice President of the Saudi Arabian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Director of the Saudi Games Prince Fahad bin Jalawi has crowned the champions of the chess competitions.
The award ceremony was held at Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex Swimming Hall in the presence of Dr. Abdullah Al-Wahshy, president of the Saudi Chess Federation.
In the men’s classic category, Ahmed Al-Rehaili secured the gold, Mohammed Salahat claimed the silver medal and Ahmed Al-Thebaiti clinched the bronze. In the women’s classic category, Dalia Al-Semairi earned the gold, followed by Hala Shahein with silver and Asma Al-Jabri with bronze.
Prince Fahad also awarded the winners of the judo competitions held yesterday at King Saud University’s Multipurpose Hall, in the presence of Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Bassam, president of the Saudi Judo Federation, and Matthew Favier, CEO of the Saudi Olympic Training Center.

Three gold medals for AlUla in judo
Men’s judo saw AlUla sweep the 60 kg podium yesterday, with club members Mohammed Firaq securing the gold medal, Mutaz Khawjah claiming silver, and Mohammed Falatah and Ali Menwayi clinching the bronze medals.
Abdullaziz Al-Bishi, representing AlUla, secured the gold medal in the men’s under 66 kg weight category, while Al-Qadisiyah’s Nader Hazazi took silver, and Al-Ittihad’s Abdullah Al-Barkati and Al-Ula’s Mounis Hawsawi shared the bronze.
In the men’s under 73 kg category, Abdullah Hammad from AlUla claimed gold. At the same time, Jawad Srdidi from Al-Shabab won silver, and Sulaiman Hamad from AlUla and Yassir Ayyad from Al-Ittihad earned bronze.
Additionally, Nayef Mazio from AlUla secured gold in the men’s over 90 kg weight category, with Rakan Zidan from Al-Tai winning silver, and Abdulkarim Al-Bishi from Al-Qadisiyah and Amjad Fallatah from Al-Qilwah claiming bronze.

Al-Qadisiyah cycling team clinches gold
Following yesterday’s events, Al-Qadisiyah cycling team was awarded the men’s team time trial gold with a race time of two hours, 16 minutes and 16 seconds. The team consisted of Faisal Suleiman Al-Shaya, Ahmed Abdulaziz Al-Omrani, Youssef Bilal Bdadou and Badr Abdulaziz Al-Muhanna.
Al-Salam team secured a second-place finish with a time of two hours, four minutes and 23 seconds, followed by Al-Fateh in third place with a time of two hours, four minutes and 54 seconds.
The winners were awarded by Abdullah Al-Wathlan, president of the Saudi Cycling Federation, and Asmaa bint Jasser Al-Jasser, the federation’s vice president.

Indoor rowing culminates
Ali Hussein Reza, president of the Saudi Rowing Federation, awarded Hassan Qadri the gold medal in the men’s 2000-meter rowing competition held yesterday at the Mahd Academy in the Prince Faisal bin Fahad Olympic Complex.
In the men’s 2000-meter event, Hassan Qadri took the gold with a final time of six minutes, 15 seconds, Rakan Alireza secured silver with six minutes, 15 seconds, and nine millizeconds, and Daniel Rover clinched bronze with six minutes, 19 seconds.
In the women’s 2000-meter competition, Emma Merrick secured the gold medal with a final time of seven minutes, 23 seconds, Haya Al-Mamy earned silver with a time of seven minutes, 29 seconds, and Kariman Abuljadayel took bronze with a time of seven minutes, 33 seconds.
In the mixed team indoor rowing competition, Team One, represented by Paula Rodrigues, Alanood Al-Solahim, Khaled Al-Dawood and Abdulrahman Mahmoud, secured the gold medal with a time of five minutes, 45 seconds. Team Seven, represented by Bassim Al-Amer, Jude Al-Talhi, Muteb Burayk and Ghady Ahmed, secured silver with a final time of five minutes, 51 seconds.

Rugby Sevens concludes
The Saudi Wolves clinched the gold medal in the Rugby Sevens competition, which concluded yesterday at Al-Riyadh Club. The Riyadh Falcons earned the silver medal, while Jeddah RFC secured the bronze. Ali Al-Dajani, president of the Saudi Rugby Federation, awarded the winners.

Ub Huishan NE dominate day one of FIBA 3x3 World Tour Jeddah Final

Ub Huishan NE dominate day one of FIBA 3x3 World Tour Jeddah Final
Updated 09 December 2023

Ub Huishan NE dominate day one of FIBA 3x3 World Tour Jeddah Final

Ub Huishan NE dominate day one of FIBA 3x3 World Tour Jeddah Final
  • Reigning champions from Serbia face Lausanne of Switzerland in the quarterfinals

JEDDAH: Serbian club Ub Huishan NE kicked off the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Jeddah Final 2023 with a pair of impressive victories to steal the show on Day 1 in front of a packed crowd at Jeddah Corniche on Friday night.

The reigning champions showcased their determination to retain the championship and remain unbeaten ahead of facing Lausanne of Switzerland in the quarterfinals.

The 14 teams from around the world who took part on the opening day of the FIBA 3x3 World Tour Final were: Ub Huishan NE, Miami, Liman Huishan NE, Vienna, Antwerp TOPdesk, Amsterdam HiPRO, Partizan Mozzart, Raudondvaris Hoptrans, Beijing, Ulaanbaatar MMC Energy, Lausanne Sport LS, San Juan, Paris, and Jeddah.

Before the basketball action kicked off, the audience was treated to a spectacular show marking the opening ceremony of the tournament.

The organizing committee also set up a cultural zone near the court to provide players, officials and spectators an opportunity to engage with others between games.

During the opening ceremony, No. 1 ranked Strahinja Stojacic received the Most Valuable Player award for the FIBA 3x3 World Tour 2023 regular season, voted on by a panel of fans and players.

The so-called Serbian “Dr. Strange” has claimed back-to-back MVP awards after the top-seeded Ub Huishan NE made one of the most dominant starts in World Tour history, winning six Masters in a row. Stojacic now has three MVPs in total this season.

The 31-year-old Serbian has made waves for his country as well, winning the FIBA 3x3 World Cup 2023 in Vienna, as well as the Europe Cup 2023.

The quarterfinal matchups are as follows:

Ub Huishan NE (SRB) — Lausanne Sport LS (SUI)

Antwerp TOPdesk (BEL) — Miami (USA)

Partizan Mozzart (SRB) — San Juan (PUR)

Amsterdam HiPRO (NED) — Raudondvaris Hoptrans (LTU)

SailGP returns to Dubai as season nears halfway point

SailGP returns to Dubai as season nears halfway point
Updated 09 December 2023

SailGP returns to Dubai as season nears halfway point

SailGP returns to Dubai as season nears halfway point
  • A whole season of change in less than two months sets up highly anticipated UAE round

DUBAI: As the season approaches the halfway point, SailGP is set for a highly anticipated weekend when the league returns to the UAE for the Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas, taking place Dec. 9-10 at Mina Rashid.

The buildup to the sixth event of Season 4 reads like a script from one of the Hollywood stars involved in the purchase of the US SailGP Team.

Jimmy Spithill is out as a driver, less than two months after delivering the US’ first win of the season in Cadiz-Andalucia, and in his place comes Taylor Canfield for the team now owned by a consortium of entertainment, sports and tech leaders.

However, Spithill has since announced his intention to set up an Italian team in Season 5 and is remarkably still driving in Dubai, representing his home country Australia for the first time since 2001 as replacement for Tom Slingsby, who is on paternity leave. Slingsby’s Australian team increased its championship lead to seven points after third in Cadiz-Andalucia but have now gone five straight finals without a win.

While Australia has benefited from Spithill’s temporary free agency for Dubai, Canada has also swooped in amid the changes to the US team. After Chris Draper stepped down as wing trimmer for Canada, they pounced to get Paul Campbell-James, who has been involved in SailGP since its inception.

Phil Robertson’s Canada will show off another US recruit in Philippe Presti, Canada’s new coach, replacing Joe Glanfield who is focusing on his role with the British Olympic team.

The Dubai event marks SailGP’s first of many Race for the Future takeovers, highlighting the league’s ongoing commitment and passion to climate action with COP28 currently ongoing in the iconic city. The takeover will showcase how the league is racing for impact, innovation, inclusivity and clean energy solutions.

The event has made history already in racing for inclusivity with a first-ever all-female F50 training session taking place in the buildup to racing after the Switzerland team provided their boat. On the ground, there will be a host of innovative activations delivered for the first time, showing how events can be run more sustainably.

This includes a reduction of 36 percent to the on-water fleet, such as racing management and coaches, and the largest temporary solar array Aggreko has ever installed at an event. The event is also powered by 100 percent clean energy.

Sir Ben Ainslie of Emirates Great Britain SailGP, meanwhile, has been among a number of athletes to speak at the global climate conference.

“It’s great to be here in Dubai. To have this opportunity to race as the home team with our Emirates partnerships and to get to the grassroots and get more youngsters out on the water is a proud moment,” he said.

“You couldn’t ask for a more prestigious brand than Emirates and they have invested a lot into our team and in this event. If you look at their involvement with so many other sports, you have to say that they invest in sports and teams for the long run, and this is just the start for a long run in Dubai and hopefully having more youngsters out on the water here in Dubai and who knows, maybe a local team in the future.”