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
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. (Supplied)
Short Url
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.


Murray survives Shapovalov challenge to reach last 16 in Dubai

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

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
Follow

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.


’Out of power’ Swiatek stunned by Kalinskaya in Dubai

’Out of power’ Swiatek stunned by Kalinskaya in Dubai
Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

’Out of power’ Swiatek stunned by Kalinskaya in Dubai

’Out of power’ Swiatek stunned by Kalinskaya in Dubai
  • Kalinskaya snapped Swiatek’s seven-match winning streak and ended the world number one’s bid for a rare Doha-Dubai title double
  • “I didn’t have power anymore to give even more, which doesn’t happen often,” admitted 22-year-old Swiatek

DUBAI: Iga Swiatek blamed fatigue for her semifinal defeat to Anna Kalinskaya in the Dubai semifinals on Friday, admitting: “I didn’t have power anymore” to up her level during the match.
Kalinskaya snapped Swiatek’s seven-match winning streak and ended the world number one’s bid for a rare Doha-Dubai title double with a commanding 6-4, 6-4 victory.
“I didn’t have power anymore to give even more, which doesn’t happen often,” admitted 22-year-old Swiatek.
“I just felt out of control a little bit because of that. Usually when I tell myself what to do, I can improve my game. Today I was so out of power and tired that I just couldn’t.”
The 40th-ranked Kalinskaya was contesting her first WTA 1000 semifinal, and is into the first tour-level final of her career, where she faces Italian Jasmine Paolini.
Kalinskaya defeated Paolini last month at the Australian Open to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final. They will square off once again on Saturday in another career-defining showdown.
Top seed Swiatek came into the semifinals having won 25 of her last 26 matches and looking to follow up her title run in Doha last week with a first-time triumph in Dubai.
Kalinskaya had to battle through the qualifying rounds and has won seven matches in total this week in the emirate, including three top-10 victories over Jelena Ostapenko, Coco Gauff and now Swiatek.
“She’s a great player. I knew if I didn’t stay calm and I didn’t stay aggressive she is going to destroy me. So that was my plan, to stay aggressive, to move her a lot,” said the 25-year-old Kalinskaya.
From 2-4 down, Kalinskaya won four games in a row to snatch in 53 minutes.
The Russian saved six of seven break points during that set, drawing 11 unforced errors off Swiatek’s racquet.
Swiatek took a toilet break between sets but it didn’t change the momentum as Kalinskaya clinched a fifth consecutive game on a loose forehand from her opponent.
Swiatek threw her racquet in frustration as she lost a sixth game in a row, falling behind 0-2 early in the second set.
Kalinskaya claimed a second break of serve in game seven and served for the match at 5-2 but Swiatek wasn’t ready to fold just yet and put pressure on the Russian by narrowing her deficit.
But even when she was staring down two break points while serving for the match for a second time, Kalinskaya didn’t flinch, saving both and completing a milestone victory on the one-hour 41-minute mark.
Earlier on Center Court, Paolini overcame Romanian big-hitter Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) to reach her first WTA 1000 final and become just the fourth Italian to make it that far at a tournament of this calibre on the women’s tour.
The 28-year-old has pulled off some impressive wins this week in Dubai, knocking out 11th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia, former US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, eight seed Maria Sakkari before Friday.
Paolini’s reward is a place in the world’s top-20 when the new rankings are released on Monday.
“I’m really happy. It’s something that if somebody would have told me before this week, I wouldn’t believe maybe. But yeah, now I’m in the final, so let’s enjoy,” said Paolini.
On Friday, two breaks of serve were enough for Paolini to take a one-set lead in 41 minutes.
But things got more complicated in the second set as Cirstea kept striking back each time Paolini inched ahead.
Cirstea had come back from 2-6, 1-5 down in her previous round against Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, saving six match points along the way.
When she wiped a 2-4 deficit against Paolini, saved a match point in the 10th game, and served for the second set at 6-5, it looked like Cirstea was on her way to another come-from-behind victory.
Paolini held her nerve though, saving five set points to force a tiebreak, and she closed out the win on her second opportunity in just under two hours.


Anna Kalinskaya eliminates Coco Gauff to set up semifinal with Iga Swiatek in Dubai

Anna Kalinskaya eliminates Coco Gauff to set up semifinal with Iga Swiatek in Dubai
Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Anna Kalinskaya eliminates Coco Gauff to set up semifinal with Iga Swiatek in Dubai

Anna Kalinskaya eliminates Coco Gauff to set up semifinal with Iga Swiatek in Dubai
  • The Russian becomes only the fourth qualifier in history to reach final 4 of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships
  • Swiatek breezes past last month’s Australian Open finalist Zheng to reach her second successive Dubai semifinal

DUBAI: Qualifier Anna Kalinskaya rallied back from a set down on Thursday night to dump world No. 3 Coco Gauff out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and set up a surprise semifinal with No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Gauff, winner of last year’s US Open at Flushing Meadows, took an early lead and with Kalinskaya requesting a medical timeout shortly before the end of the first set, it looked like a repeat of last year’s semifinal where Gauff met Swiatek.

But the world No. 40 had other ideas, showing her mettle — and the benefits of a little medical attention — to turn the match on its head and secure her second top-10 win of the week and first top-five victory.

Gauff raced into the lead despite facing two breakpoints in the opening game. Kalinskaya, who reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open last month, struggled to settle and was broken again in the fourth after a lengthy service game. Yet with 25-year-old Kalinskaya — making her main-draw debut in Dubai this week — requesting on-court treatment for upper back pain and momentum firmly with Gauff, it was the American’s level that declined in the second set.

Both players dropped early service games, but Kalinskaya held in the fourth to advance 3-1 and showed a strong defensive game to eventually take it to 5-2. Gauff secured a break that gave her hope, but it was not enough as Kalinskaya closed out the set on her serve.

In the decisive third set, an error-prone Gauff failed to match her opponent, who quickly went ahead 2-0 and showed no signs of the early back pains as she played a variety of powerful forehands from the baseline mixed with angled cross-court backhands that had her opponent on her heels. Serving for the match, Kalinskaya — who has never contested a semifinal in a WTA 1000 event — showed some nerves, but ultimately secured what was required.

“It was a difficult match,” said Kalinskaya, who becomes only the fourth qualifier to reach the final four in Dubai. “I started a little bit not so confident. I was getting used to the surface. I played many games this week (in qualifying) but didn’t get the chance to play on center court. I felt the speed of the bounce was a bit different. I couldn’t find my timing.

“In the second set, I actually calmed down a little bit more and I played point-by-point until the end of the match. I could feel the tension until the last point. She kept bringing so many balls back, so I had to stay really patient and decide which ball to go and finish the point.”

Swiatek, 22, crowned champion in Doha last week, extended her unbeaten run in the Middle East this year by making light work of Zheng. The 6-3, 6-2 win meant the Pole also maintained her 100 percent record against last month’s Australian Open champion, having won all five previous encounters, most recently at the United Cup in Perth.

Under the lights at Dubai Tennis Stadium, she convincingly emerged victorious yet again, denying Zheng a break of serve throughout and saving three breakpoints.

“I think I can really play well under pressure and in those important moments,” said Swiatek after extending her winning streak in the Gulf region this year to seven matches. “I guess it’s maybe the decision-making. For sure, mentally I treat those shots the same way as any other shot in the match. I don’t feel extra pressure; I just feel like it’s any other point — which gives me freedom to do anything, honestly.”

For all the pre-tournament talk of this year’s Dubai championship featuring 17 of the world’s top 20 players, Swiatek is the sole semifinalist ranked inside the top 22. Yet while she is undoubtedly favorite now and expected to win, she was quick to play down talk of a title and explain some of the unique demands in playing back-to-back tournaments.

“I’m in the semifinal, so I don’t think anybody would say it’s their title when they’re in the middle of the tournament,” she responded when asked whether she considered the title hers to lose.


Czech teenager Mensik stuns top seed Rublev at Qatar Open

Czech teenager Mensik stuns top seed Rublev at Qatar Open
Updated 23 February 2024
Follow

Czech teenager Mensik stuns top seed Rublev at Qatar Open

Czech teenager Mensik stuns top seed Rublev at Qatar Open
  • The 18-year-old came through 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) against the fifth-ranked Rublev, a day after defeating three-time Grand Slam title winner Andy Murray
  • Mensik will face 2018 champion Gael Monfils for a place in Saturday’s final after the veteran won an all-French affair by beating third seed Ugo Humbert 6-2, 6-4

DOHA: Czech teenager Jakub Mensik stunned top seed Andrey Rublev in straight sets at the Qatar Open on Thursday to reach his maiden ATP semifinal and guarantee a spot in the world’s top 100 for the first time.

The 18-year-old came through 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) against the fifth-ranked Rublev, a day after defeating three-time Grand Slam title winner Andy Murray.

“It’s just been an incredible week. From the beginning I played very well and I knew I could play with the big players. It’s an amazing feeling to reach the semifinals after beating those good players,” said wild card Mensik who arrived in the Gulf ranked at 116.

“But the job is not done yet. Hopefully I can play like this again in the semis and go on to make the final.”

With his one-hour, 38-minute win on Thursday, Mensik became the youngest player to defeat a top-five player since Carlos Alcaraz overcame Stefanos Tsitsipas at the 2021 US Open.

Mensik will face 2018 champion Gael Monfils for a place in Saturday’s final after the veteran won an all-French affair by beating third seed Ugo Humbert 6-2, 6-4.

Monfils is the oldest semifinalist in Qatar tournament history aged 37 years and five months.

The other semifinal will see Australia’s Alexei Popyrin face Russian second seed Karen Khachanov.

Popyrin eased past Kazakh fourth seed Alexander Bublik 6-4, 6-4 while Khachanov went through when Finnish opponent Emil Ruusuvuori retired with a back injury after just three games.