Fils, Stricker among qualifiers for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah

Fils, Stricker among qualifiers for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah
World No. 36 Arthur Fils will take part at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 November 2023
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Fils, Stricker among qualifiers for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah

Fils, Stricker among qualifiers for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah
  • Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh secures wild-card spot at 21-and-under event starting Nov. 28

JEDDAH: Tennis players Arthur Fils, Dominic Stricker, Luca Van Assche, and Flavio Cobolli have qualified for the Next Gen ATP Finals, to be held in Jeddah.

And Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh has received a wild card for the 21-and-under event, being staged at King Abdullah Sports City from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2.

Frenchman Fils, 19, has broken new ground on the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour this season after beginning the year at No. 251 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

The world No. 36 captured his first tour-level title in Lyon and reached the title match in Antwerp last month. Fils also enjoyed runs to the semi-finals in Montpellier, Marseille, and Hamburg and is now set to make his debut in Jeddah.

Fils’ countryman Van Assche will also line up at the Next Gen ATP Finals after qualifying for the first time. The 19-year-old has won two ATP Challenger Tour titles this year, with his best result on the ATP Tour a quarterfinal showing at the ATP 500 in Hamburg.

Swiss left-handed player Stricker will make his second appearance at the 21-and-under event after reaching the semi-finals last year. The 21-year-old has continued his development this season, highlighted by his run to the fourth round at the US Open. Stricker cracked the top 100 for the first time after his performance in New York.

Meanwhile, Cobolli’s standout end to the year has helped him seal his spot in Jeddah.

The 21-year-old Italian won an ATP Challenger Tour title in Lisbon in August and made finals at that level in Romania and Italy in recent weeks. The world No. 100 advanced to the quarterfinals in Munich in April.

Shelbayh will be the first Jordanian player to compete at the event after receiving a wild card. The 19-year-old has earned tour-level wins in Banja Luka and Metz this season and became the first player from Jordan to win an ATP Challenger Tour title when he triumphed in Charleston in October.

Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz and Dane Holger Rune are competing at the Nitto ATP Finals this month and are therefore exempt, while American Ben Shelton and Italian Lorenzo Musetti have withdrawn due to medical and personal reasons, respectively.


No fairy-tale ending for Andy Murray in Dubai, as Ugo Humbert advances to quarter-finals

No fairy-tale ending for Andy Murray in Dubai, as Ugo Humbert advances to quarter-finals
Updated 28 February 2024
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No fairy-tale ending for Andy Murray in Dubai, as Ugo Humbert advances to quarter-finals

No fairy-tale ending for Andy Murray in Dubai, as Ugo Humbert advances to quarter-finals
  • The 2017 Dubai Tennis Championships winner receives standing ovation as he bows out with a 6-2, 6-4 defeat in what is likely to be his final appearance at event
  • No. 2 seed Andrey Rublev defeats qualifier Arthur Cazaux 6-4, 6-4, and Alexander Bublik enjoys a hard-fought 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (7-2) victory over Tallon Griekspoor

DUBAI: Andy Murray’s hopes of fairy-tale ending to what seems likely to be his last appearance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships were dashed by in-form Frenchman Ugo Humbert, who defeated the 36-year-old Scot 6-2, 6-4 on center court at Dubai Tennis Stadium on Wednesday night.

The three-time Grand Slam champion, winner of this tournament in 2017, cut a frustrated figure against the No. 5 seed, who is 11 years his junior.

Clearly desperate to give his enthusiastic and vocal Dubai fans something to cheer, Murray, who beat Fernando Verdasco in the final here seven years ago, could be seen continually talking to himself as he struggled with his own game and the energy of his opponent.

He won the opening game on serve but then Humbert, who needed three sets to see off veteran wildcard Gael Monfils in his opening match, broke serve twice in succession. He simply had too much for Murray to cope with and took the opening set 6-2.

The second set followed a similar path, with Murray holding serve in the opening game, only for Humbert to break twice in a row as he calmly wrapped up the set 6-4 to claim a spot in the quarter-finals.

Murray received a standing ovation as he left the court in Dubai for what is probably the final time, the fans acknowledging his service not only to the sport in general but to the evolution of this particular tournament.

After the game, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist admitted he is in the twilight of his illustrious career.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m likely not going to play past this summer,” he said. “I get asked about it after every single match that I play, every single tournament that I play.

“I’m not going to talk more about that between now and whenever the time comes for me to stop. But yeah, I don’t plan on playing much past this summer.”

Humbert, who has an ATP title to his name already this year, thanks to victory in Marseille this month, was a picture of relaxation as he celebrated his victory and looked forward to the quarter-finals.

“Consistency has been the key for me this year,” the 25-year-old said. “I’m really happy that I’m playing well. It’s really nice to play in a venue like this in front of a great crowd. I was really calm today and knew what I needed to do.”

In the bottom half of the draw, No. 2 seed and last year’s beaten finalist, Andrey Rublev, was the first player to book a quarter-final berth, dashing the hopes of French qualifier Arthur Cazaux.

Cazaux, who was making his debut in Dubai this week, produced some fine tennis to get through the qualifiers and then defeat Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in the round of 32. But Rublev took control of their last-16 clash on center court from the opening game, breaking his opponent’s serve and holding firm to take the first set 6-4.

The second set went with serve until Rublev, a winner in Hong Kong in January, broke Cazaux in the seventh game and held his subsequent serves to seal a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Alexander Bublik booked his place in the quarter-finals with a 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (7-2) victory over Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands. Bublik, who survived a scare in his opening match when he came back from a set down against qualifier Tomas Machac, was once again pushed hard by Griekspoor, but dug deep to secure victory.


Saudi Arabia’s PIF, ATP announce multi-year strategic partnership to accelerate tennis growth

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund on Wednesday announced a “multi-year strategic partnership” with the ATP. (PIF)
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund on Wednesday announced a “multi-year strategic partnership” with the ATP. (PIF)
Updated 28 February 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s PIF, ATP announce multi-year strategic partnership to accelerate tennis growth

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund on Wednesday announced a “multi-year strategic partnership” with the ATP. (PIF)
  • PIF’s Head of Corporate Brand Mohamed AlSayyad: “Through our collaboration with ATP, PIF will be a catalyst for growth of the global tennis landscape”
  • Massimo Calvelli, ATP CEO: “It’s a shared commitment to propel the future of the sport”

RIYADH/LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the Association of Tennis Professionals have signed a multi-year strategic partnership that marks a significant shared commitment to developing global tennis for players, fans, tournament organizers and stakeholders at all levels.
The agreement means the PIF becomes the official name partner of the ATP Rankings, celebrating players’ journeys and progress and championing excellence.
PIF’s Head of Corporate Brand Mohamed AlSayyad said: “Through our collaboration with ATP, PIF will be a catalyst for growth of the global tennis landscape, developing talent, fostering inclusivity and driving sustainable innovation.”
He added the partnership aligned with PIF’s broader vision of enhancing quality of life and driving transformation in sport, both within the Kingdom and across the world.
ATP CEO Massimo Calvelli added: “It’s a shared commitment to propel the future of the sport. With PIF’s dedication to the next generation — fostering innovation and creating opportunities for all — the stage is set for a transformative period of progress.”
PIF will partner with ATP Tour events in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Beijing and the Nitto ATP Finals in Milan, as well as the Next Gen ATP Finals to be hosted in Jeddah until 2027.
The two bodies will also collaborate to elevate the long-term future of tennis. PIF will actively contribute to ATP’s OneVision Strategic Plan which focuses on driving unity, enhancing fan experiences and leveraging scalable growth opportunities across the sport.


Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open

Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open
Updated 28 February 2024
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Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open

Second-seeded Holger Rune eases past American Michael Mmoh at Mexican Open
  • The 20-year-old Rune, from Denmark, reached the semifinals in Acapulco last year
  • Fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Roman Safiullin 6-3, 6-4 and moved on to the second round where he will face Flavio Cobolli

ACAPULCO, Mexico: Second-seeded Holger Rune eased past American Michael Mmoh 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday and advanced to the second round of the Mexican Open.

Rune, ranked seventh in the ATP, needed 92 minutes to dispatch Mmoh, who made his way into the main draw through the qualification tournament.

The 20-year-old Rune, from Denmark, reached the semifinals in Acapulco last year. He advanced to face the winner of the late match between Aleksandar Kovasevic and Jordan Thompson.

Earlier, fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Roman Safiullin 6-3, 6-4 and moved on to the second round where he will face Flavio Cobolli.

The 25-year-old Greek reached the semifinals last week in Los Cabos, Mexico, and is trying to win his first career 500 tournament.

Also Tuesday, Frances Tiafoe, seeded eighth, rallied to beat Max Purcell 4-6, 6-3, 6-0. He moved on to face Dominik Koepfer, who took care of Terence Atmane 6-4, 4— 6, 6-0.

Tiafoe is the highest-ranked American player in contention in the tournament after fourth-seeded Taylor Fritz and seventh-seeded Tommy Paul were knocked out on Monday.


Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
Updated 27 February 2024
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Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai
  • Briton fights back from a set down to secure landmark 500th hard court career win and safe passage at ATP 500 event
  • Frustrated sixth-seed Mannarino falls to the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp in straight sets after warning for on-court anger

DUBAI: Former champion Andy Murray dug deep to edge out Canada’s Denis Shapovalov 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 in front of a jubilant center court crowd at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday night.

The come-from-behind victory saw Murray — who claimed a solitary Dubai title in 2017 — register a landmark 500th career win on hard courts. He becomes only the fifth player to achieve the feat, joining luminaries of the game Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi.

“It’s not bad, is it?” Murray said after reaching the milestone. “Hard courts have been a great surface for me over the years, and getting to 500 is a lot of matches. I am very proud of that, not a lot of players have done it, so it’s great to do it before I’m done.”

In challenging winds, the twilight ATP 500 round of 32 match started with eight consecutive service holds as both players found early rhythm. The first break points arrived in game nine, as Shapovalov found the outer corners of center court with a pair of dazzling one-handed backhand winners. After squandering the first chance, the 24-year-old grabbed the second to move 5-4 up, then held serve to claim the first set.

With both players holding serve for the first three games of the second set, Murray finally broke the big-serving Shapovalov in game four. The Brit’s ecstasy, however, immediately turned to agony as Shapovalov instantly broke back, then held, to make it 3-3.

As Murray, 12 years his opponent’s senior, increasingly threatened the Shapovalov serve, the Canadian’s monstrous first service cannons got him out of jail on numerous occasions. Murray, receiving, regularly stood some way behind the Dubai signage adorning the hardcourt beyond the baseline. The tactic proved fruitless, as Shapovalov unleashed 215-km serves time after time with pinpoint accuracy.

Battle-worn and grimacing repeatedly after several points near the end of the second set, Murray found emergency reserves of energy to force a tiebreak, which he won 7-5 to level the match — much to the delight of an adoring crowd.

Murray then broke Shapovalov in the opening game of the third set, which progressed on serve until 5-3 when Shapovalov suddenly found himself serving to stay in the match. With unforced errors now littering the Canadian’s game, Murray unleashed a glorious backhand winner at 30-30 to set up match point. It proved to be the only opportunity the British veteran needed, as Shapovalov volleyed Murray’s return of serve into the net.

In the ATP 500 event’s opening match on center court, the Netherlands’ Botic Van de Zandschulp upset sixth seed Adrian Mannarino, the world No. 19, in straight sets. With both players holding serve and almost politely swapping breaks enroute to a 6-6 stalemate, Van de Zandschulp, the world No. 75, managed to pull clear in the tiebreak to seal it 7-3.

After the umpire handed Mannarino a conduct warning between sets for smashing his racquet in frustration, the second set remained a tight affair. Eleven consecutive holds of serve suggested another tiebreak lay in wait, but Van de Zandschulp got the better of his French opponent’s service game at exactly the right time to triumph 7-6, 7-5 in just under two hours.

In the evening games under the lights, world No. 5 Andrey Rublev safely negotiated his route to the round of 16, defeating Zhizhen Zhang 6-7, 6-2, 6-4. The former Dubai champion was made to fight by his opponent, however, with the serve of the world No. 46 looking particularly formidable as he claimed the first set.

“It was a really tough match,” said Rublev. “I started well, but he was serving unreal. I don’t know how high his percentage was on the first serve, but it feels like some games lasted only one second, and serves were around 220 and super tough to return.”

A center court surprise came even closer in the following match as world No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz came within two match points of crashing out in the first round. His tie with German Jan-Lennard Struff went the distance as both men held their thumping serves for three straight sets, before the Pole squeezed through on the decisive set tiebreak to claim a 7-6, 4-7, 7-6 win.

“He’s such a great guy and great opponent,” said Hurkacz, who will face either Christopher O’Connell or Maximilian Marterer in the round of 16. “In the end, I got a little bit lucky, but I tried to compete until the last point and that is what I always try to do. It could have gone either way.”


Jasmine Paolini ends Anna Kalinskaya fairytale to win Dubai Tennis Championship

Jasmine Paolini ends Anna Kalinskaya fairytale to win Dubai Tennis Championship
Updated 25 February 2024
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Jasmine Paolini ends Anna Kalinskaya fairytale to win Dubai Tennis Championship

Jasmine Paolini ends Anna Kalinskaya fairytale to win Dubai Tennis Championship
  • Italian battles back from a set and a break down to beat the Russian qualifier and claim her first WTA 1000 title

DUBAI: Italian Jasmine Paolini battled back from a set and a break down in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to win 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, secure her first WTA 1000 title, and spoil qualifier Anna Kalinskaya’s fairytale week.

Kalinskaya had already written her name into the history books, beating world No.1 Iga Swiatek in the semifinals on Friday to become the first qualifier to reach the Championship match at the Dubai Tennis Stadium. And the 25-year-old looked on course to go one step further when she took the first set under the lights and broke Paolini in the first game of the second set.

Paolini, however, had been in the same position earlier in the week. In her opening match of the tournament against Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia on Sunday, she also lost the opening set and opening game of the second, before rallying back strongly to close out the win. And against Kalinskaya, she repeated the trick.

“It’s so special; I’m really happy and really surprised — I don’t know what to say,” an emotional, smiling Paolini said on court after securing the biggest win of her career.

“I’m just happy that I believed I could win every match. I remember my first match this week: It was second set, I’d lost the first and was a break down, yet now I’m here winning the title. It’s unbelievable.”

Speaking directly to the vocal fans who increasingly cheered for her throughout the match, Paolini added: “It’s great to play in front of so many people — you are crazy, guys. Thank you very much for supporting me.”

Qualifier Kalinskaya had produced some of the biggest shocks of the week as the world No.40 overcame 2022 winner Jelena Ostapenko in the Round of 16, edged world No.3 Coco Gauff in the quarterfinals and beat four-time Grand Slam winner Swiatek in straight sets. And as a capacity crowd filed into their seats to watch two players contesting their first WTA 1000 final, it was Kalinskaya — making her Main Draw debut in Dubai this week after coming through two rounds of qualifying — who settled first, breaking a nervous Paolini in the first game.

The Italian, ranked No.26 in the world, gradually grew into the match, breaking back in the fourth to take the set to 2-2 before the pair, who met last month at the Australian Open with Kalinskaya coming out on top, exchanged successive breaks. In the ninth game, Kalinskaya broke serve once more to take a 5-4 lead and after serving her first ace of the match — a 172 kph thunderbolt — she served out for the first set.

The second set started similar to the first, with Kalinskaya breaking in the first game with a thunderous winner. Yet once more she let her lead slip, this time in the sixth. And with the crowd baying for a third set, Paolini found herself in the ascendancy, pulling her opponent around the court, forcing errors, and eventually breaking in the 12th to take the set 7-5.

Kalinskaya took the lead once more in the third set, but again failed to pull away, seeing her own service game broken immediately by a fired up Paolini. Undeterred, the qualifier broke again to take the outright lead and this time held it for much of the deciding set. Yet, serving for the championship, Kalinskaya’s game evaporated as she double-faulted, started overcooking forehands, and found the net with an unnecessary drop shot that allowed Paolini to stay in the match with a crucial break.

After serving for the match, Kalinskaya found herself needing to break her opponent, but Paolini was unaccommodating, showing ferocity to close out the match and take her first title since October and first above WTA 250 level. The win is expected to project her into the top 15 when the WTA’s latest rankings are released next week.

“I have to say at the end of the match maybe she missed some balls that she never missed all the match,” Paolini said. “It’s tough; tennis is tough mentally. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I’m happy that this time I was able to win.”

Kalinskaya, who conceded Paolini “totally deserved it and (fought) for every ball,” told the fans during the prize cermony: “I’ve never played so much tennis in one week, but it was a pleasure playing in front of you. You make it very special and give a lot of energy and support, so hopefully see you all next year.”

Meanwhile, the doubles final saw No.4 seeded Storm Hunter and Katerina Siniakova triumph over No.3 seeds Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez 6-4, 6-2. Attention now turns to the ATP 500 men’s tournament, which starts on Monday and features six of the world’s top 20, including three previous winners in Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, and Andy Murray.