Tennis, the latest sport on the rise in Saudi Arabia

Tennis, the latest sport on the rise in Saudi Arabia
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Saudi Arabia currently hosts its first-ever professional tennis event — the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM. (ATP Tour)
Tennis, the latest sport on the rise in Saudi Arabia
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Tennis has been making its mark in the Saudi sports evolution, so much that its nationwide growth and popularity cannot be missed. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 November 2023
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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.”


Ugo Humbert dominates Alexander Bublik to claim glory at 32nd Dubai Tennis Championships

Ugo Humbert dominates Alexander Bublik to claim glory at 32nd Dubai Tennis Championships
Updated 03 March 2024
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Ugo Humbert dominates Alexander Bublik to claim glory at 32nd Dubai Tennis Championships

Ugo Humbert dominates Alexander Bublik to claim glory at 32nd Dubai Tennis Championships
  • French No. 5 seed dispatches 7th seeded Kazakh 6-4, 6-3 to win 6th career title
  • Tallon Griekspoor, Jan-Lennard Struff claim men’s doubles title with 6-4, 4-6, 10-6 victory over Ivan Dodig, Austin Krajicek

Dubai: Ugo Humbert produced a ruthless masterclass to defeat Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik in straight sets and seal ATP 500 victory in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

The French No. 5 seed, who rose to a career-high world No. 14 after his heroics in Dubai, made it a clean sweep of six titles in six ATP finals with a clinical 6-4, 6-3 dismantling of No. 7 seed Bublik, the world No. 19, in front of a capacity Center Court crowd at Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

Humbert, who defeated compatriot Gael Monfils, Britain’s Andy Murray, world No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz, and world No. 4 Daniil Medvedev to reach the final, unleashed his full repertoire of booming forehands and laser-like double-handed backhands to eclipse Bublik, who progressed past 2022 Dubai champion Andrey Rublev in a dramatic semi-final, which saw the No. 2 seed disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct.

After tight opening exchanges where the pair were evenly matched, the final stayed on-serve until the 10th game when Humbert, who had failed to convert break points in Bublik’s two previous service games, finally broke the Kazakh’s resistance to clinch the first set 6-4.

With Bublik delighting the Dubai crowd with a combination of whipped forehands and a deft array of dropshots, Humbert, relaxed and controlled, raced into a 3-1 second set lead after breaking Bublik. From there, the 25-year-old left-hander relied on his own dominant serve – unbroken throughout the final – to close out the match on his second championship point.

Humbert, who claimed the winner’s prize of $550,140, said: “I played a fantastic level all through the week, but it was not easy. I really don’t know how I stayed calm.

“I have too much respect for (Bublik), he’s such a nice guy on and off the court, and congratulations to him on a great start to the year.”

Bublik said: “This week has had almost everything for me, and I can’t wait to come back here again in 2025.

“Before the final, I thought if I won, I would dedicate it to my son, but sorry, maybe next time,” the 26-year-old, who bagged the runner-up prize of $296,000, added.

In the men’s doubles final, the Netherlands’ Tallon Griekspoor and Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff narrowly defeated Croatia’s Ivan Dodig and the US’ Austin Krajicek 6-4, 4-6, 10-6.

With a pair of service breaks enough to settle the opening two sets, Griekspoor and Struff came from 1-3 down in the deciding super tiebreak, winning nine of the last 12 points to claim a maiden Dubai title and a share of the $180,700 prize pool. Beaten finalists Dodig and Krajicek split a runners-up purse of $96,370.

After the match, Griekspoor said: “It’s the first time we’ve played together, so maybe we should keep it one week. We played really well and had a great time; it was a lot of fun on court. I had such a pleasure on court this week.”

Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, said: “This magical evening has provided a fitting end to a memorable Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships fortnight. We have seen crowds of over 45,000-plus revel in match after match of wonderful tennis during the men’s ATP 500 week.

“Our congratulations go to the 2024 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships winners, men’s singles champion, Ugo Humbert, and our doubles champions, Tallon Griekspoor and Jan-Lennard Struff – all truly worthy winners.

Ramesh Cidambi, chief operating officer of Dubai Duty Free and chairman of the tournament organizing committee, said: “This year’s ATP 500 at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships has, once again, exceeded our expectations with a week of scintillating tennis, unbelievable moments on and off court, and enthusiastic grandstands.

“Thank you to all the players, officials, and fans who have contributed to the runaway success of the 32nd Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. We look forward to welcoming you back to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium in 12 months’ time.”


Aussie Alex de Minaur repeats as ATP Acapulco champion

Aussie Alex de Minaur repeats as ATP Acapulco champion
Updated 03 March 2024
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Aussie Alex de Minaur repeats as ATP Acapulco champion

Aussie Alex de Minaur repeats as ATP Acapulco champion
  • The 25-year-old from Sydney captured his eighth career ATP title after dropping four straight finals since downing American Tommy Paul in last year’s final, the most recent last month at Rotterdam

MEXICO CITY: Australia’s Alex de Minaur won his second consecutive ATP Mexican Open title on Saturday, defeating Norway’s Casper Ruud 6-4, 6-4 in the final at Acapulco.

The 25-year-old from Sydney captured his eighth career ATP title after dropping four straight finals since downing American Tommy Paul in last year’s final, the most recent last month at Rotterdam.

World No. 9 de Minaur, a two-time winner also at Atlanta, dispatched 11th-ranked Ruud after one hour and 57 minutes, improving to 2-0 against his European foe after winning their only prior meeting at the 2019 ATP NextGen Finals.

Ruud, a two-time French Open runner-up and the 2022 US Open runner-up, missed out on his 11th ATP title for the second week in a row after dropping last week’s final at Los Cabos to another Aussie, Jordan Thompson.

Ruud’s most recent ATP crown came last April at Estoril.

The players exchanged praise after the match, Ruud telling de Minaur: “Fantastic playing all week. Too good today. Seems like you are enjoying Acapulco quite well. You did a great job.”

De Minaur replied, “Great stuff. It was hard work. Thank you for a great match.”


Rublev defaulted and defending champ Medvedev knocked out in Dubai semifinals

Rublev defaulted and defending champ Medvedev knocked out in Dubai semifinals
Updated 02 March 2024
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Rublev defaulted and defending champ Medvedev knocked out in Dubai semifinals

Rublev defaulted and defending champ Medvedev knocked out in Dubai semifinals
  • Second-seeded Russian yells in the face of a line judge, gets defaulted for unsportsmanlike conduct

DUBAI: Andrey Rublev was defaulted from his semifinal at the Dubai Championships for yelling in the face of a line judge, allowing Alexander Bublik to advance to the final on Friday.
Also, defending champion Daniil Medvedev was knocked out in the other semi by Ugo Humbert 7-5, 6-3.
The second-seeded Rublev erupted after Bublik won a point to take a 6-5 lead in the deciding set.
The Russian, who is ranked No. 5, immediately pointed to the baseline, walked to the line judge, leaned over and shouted in his face.
ATP supervisor Roland Herfel came to the court accompanied by a Russian speaker, who said Rublev swore in his native language.
Rublev responded: “I was talking to him in English.” He insisted he did not use profanity.
But umpire Miriam Bley defaulted Rublev for unsportsmanlike conduct, after which the seventh-seeded Bublik said “I’m OK to continue” with the match.
Bublik won 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-5.
Rublev won the hard-court tournament in 2022 but lost to Medvedev in last year’s final.
The No. 4-ranked Medvedev was undone by Humbert for the third time in four matchups. Humbert was aggressive, and his left-handed serve sent the Russian top seed wide to open up the court.
“I played the perfect match today,” Humbert said.
The Frenchman’s confidence has been high since he won the Marseille title three weeks ago. That was his was fifth career title. He’s never lost a final.
The big-serving Bublik is looking for his fifth singles title. The Kazakh player won Montpellier last month.


De Minaur beats Tsitsipas at last to reach Acapulco semifinals

De Minaur beats Tsitsipas at last to reach Acapulco semifinals
Updated 01 March 2024
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De Minaur beats Tsitsipas at last to reach Acapulco semifinals

De Minaur beats Tsitsipas at last to reach Acapulco semifinals
  • The other semifinal will pit second-seeded Holger Rune of Denmark against sixth-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway

MEXICO CITY: Defending champion Alex de Minaur beat Stefanos Tsitsipas for the first time to reach the semifinals of the ATP hardcourt tournament in Acapulco, Mexico on Thursday.

Australia’s De Minaur had come up empty in 10 prior meetings against Tsitsipas and it looked like more of the same when the Greek raced through the first set 6-1.

But third-seeded De Minaur, coming off a runner-up finish to Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner in Rotterdam, fought back for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory and booked a last-four clash with Britain’s Jack Draper.

“Every time I’ve got to play him I get reminded about my (record in the) matchup,” De Minaur said. “I’m glad I got one on the board.”

Tsitsipas, seeded fifth, broke De Minaur three times in rolling through the first set.

The Australian came out on top in an exchange of five service breaks in the second set and saved the only break point he faced in the third.

“I would like to say that no one beats me 11 times in a row, but hey, Stefanos has had my number for a very long time, so I’m glad I was able to get one back,” De Minaur said.

Draper, 22, cruised past Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic 6-2, 6-2 to seal his place in the last four.

The other semifinal will pit second-seeded Holger Rune of Denmark against sixth-seeded Casper Ruud of Norway.

Rune defeated Germany’s Dominik Koepfer 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/0) to reach the semifinals for the second year in a row.

Ruud rallied from a set down to beat American Ben Shelton 6-7 (7/9), 6-4, 6-4.


Medvedev wins to set up Dubai Tennis Championships semifinal with Humbert

Medvedev wins to set up Dubai Tennis Championships semifinal with Humbert
Updated 01 March 2024
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Medvedev wins to set up Dubai Tennis Championships semifinal with Humbert

Medvedev wins to set up Dubai Tennis Championships semifinal with Humbert
  • Reigning champion beat Davidovich Fokina at Dubai Tennis Stadium to take one step closer to emulating Federer’s 2015 feat
  • No. 5 seed Ugo Humbert beat Hurkacz to book place in final 4, while 2022 winner Andrey Rublev also progressed

DUBAI: Daniil Medvedev booked his place in the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Thursday night following a comfortable win over Alejando Davidovich Fokina 6-2, 6-3.

The victory saw the world No. 4 extend his winning streak to eight at the Dubai Tennis Stadium and took him one step closer to becoming the first male since Roger Federer in 2015 to successfully defend the Dubai title.

Medvedev, into his sixth semifinal in his last eight events, was at times sublime under the lights of center court, breaking his Spanish opponent’s serve four times during the 77-minute tie, and displaying an impressive repertoire of booming forehands, angled slices, and unreachable drop shots. He struck 15 winners and committed just six unforced errors.

And even when he was not perfect, he had Lady Luck on his side.

Struggling with the wind in the fifth game of the first set, he found himself in a triple breakpoint hole. He saved all three, with the help of an accommodating net cord as his backhand hit the tape and fell on his opponent’s side. It was not the only time in the match when he benefited from the cord.

“I think it happened four times,” said Medvedev who is the first top seed to reach the final four in Dubai since Novak Djokovic in 2020. “I definitely got lucky. There was one more that touched the net for him and went on his side. Sometimes it happens. At one moment in the second set, I was like: ‘Wow, I’m almost doing it on purpose.’ But I wasn’t. Definitely a little bit lucky. I don’t remember another day where it would be four times, but that’s how tennis is sometimes. Today I got lucky. Next time it could be him.”

Medvedev, winner of 20 ATP events, is looking to defend a title for the first time in his career. He will face France’s Ugo Humbert, who defeated Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3. Hurkacz enjoyed a dominant start to the match, winning 15 of 16 first-serve points and remaining unbroken throughout the first set, as Humbert struggled to find answers for an average first serve speed of 204 kph from the world No. 8.

The second set saw a change of momentum, however, as a defiant Humbert broke Hurkacz’s serve for the first time in the match to take a 3-1 lead, although the favor was immediately returned by the No. 3 seed who broke back and was eventually forced to contest his fifth tiebreak of the tournament. Twenty-five-year-old Hubert edged it 10-8.

An early break in the third set made for a much-needed one-game cushion throughout the set for Humbert, which he capitalized on, holding serve and breaking the Pole once more to seal the set 6-3. The world No. 18 can be confident against Medvedev, whom he leads 2-1 head-to-head. “It will be a great challenge against Daniil,” he said. “We played a couple of times and they were great games. I need to rest a little bit, but then I’ll be ready to go again.”

Last year’s defeated finalist Andrey Rublev, meanwhile, is also through to the final four after his quarterfinal opponent Sebastian Korda retired through injury in the second set with the score at 6-4, 4-3. Former champion Rublev, who is looking to reach a third successive final in Dubai, did not look in complete control during his early exchanges with Korda as difficult conditions affected both players.

Korda was bidding to reach the semifinals of the competition, 25 years after his father Petr last appeared in Dubai. Speaking after the match, Rublev expressed sympathy for the 23-year-old American, who was making his debut at Dubai’s ATP 500 tournament. “When it’s these kinds of conditions, the tennis is always not that beautiful,” said the No. 2 seed.

“You need to find a way. You must accept that this is the way it is today. Sometimes today I was lucky as well because of those conditions. In important moments, the ball moved because of the wind and he couldn’t play well. It helped me a lot today.

“In the end, of course, you never want to finish in that way. All I can say is I hope there is nothing serious with Sebastian and he will be ready for Indian Wells 100 percent.”

Rublev’s next hurdle meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik, moved into the top 20 for the first time in his career with a 4-6, 1-4 victory after opponent Jiri Lehecka was forced to retire through injury in the second set.