Jordanian tennis player Abdullah Shelbayh said it will be an "honour" to represent the Arab world at next week's Next Gen ATP Finals in Saudi Arabia.
Eight of the world's best 21-and-under players are in Jeddah for the November 28 - December 2 season-ending event; Arthur Fils, Dominic Stricker, Luca Van Assche, Flavio Cobolli, Alex Michelsen, Hamad Medjedovic, Luca Nardi, and Shelbayh will battle it out for the title and the top prize of $514,000.
The Next Gen ATP Finals will be held in Saudi for the first time, so for the region’s sole representative, there’s a huge added incentive to perform well.
“In most countries in the Arab world, tennis is not as developed a sport,” Shelbayh, 20, said. “But for me as a Jordanian, as well as an Arab, to be playing in such a special event is an honour.
"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.”
Amman-born Shelbayh is ranked world No 187, making him by far the highest-ranked male player in the region – as well as the first Jordanian tennis player to achieve an ATP world ranking.
The success of Tunisian star Ons Jabeur – the highest-ranked Arab tennis player in both WTA and ATP rankings history – has sparked interest in tennis in the region.
Shelbayh, who said Jabeur has done “wonders” for tennis in the Arab world, hopes he can follow in the footsteps of the former world No 2 and three-time Grand Slam finalist.
“I hope I will be inspiring many young kids from the Arab world to play this sport and of course to motivate them to do well and be the best that they can,” said Shelbayh, who left Jordan aged 14 to train at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Spain before spending a year playing at the University of Florida ahead of turning professional.
“I know that we have brought through many talents over the years and hopefully in the upcoming years we’ll have many more players from the Arab world competing at such a high level.”
The next step on that quest is the Next Gen ATP Finals. Established in 2017, previous tournaments took place in Milan before an agreement was sealed for Jeddah to host them from at least 2023 to 2027.
Shelbayh hopes the fans at King Abdullah Sports City will throw their support behind his bid for the title.
“In the tournament, I think I'll need the support from the Arab world during the week,” said Shelbayh, 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.
“I think it will be very interesting for Arabian tennis fans and fans in Saudi Arabia to come and watch me play because I'll be the only player from the Middle East playing at the event. I think it will be very interesting to see what's going to happen, and how far I'll go.”