Abdullah Shelbayh says it's 'special' to represent Jordan on Arab soil in Dubai

Rising tennis star makes his tournament debut on Monday while Tunisian Skander Mansouri will compete in doubles main draw

Jordan's Abdullah Shelbayh will play Tallon Griekspoor of the Netherlands at the Dubai Duty Free Championships on Monday. Photo: LTP
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Jordanian wild card Abdullah Shelbayh is relishing the “special” opportunity to compete on Arab soil and is keen to represent his country the best way possible on his Dubai debut on Monday.

The 20-year-old Shelbayh has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings, vaulting from 470 in the world at the start of 2023 to a career-high 181 last month.

A crafty lefty, who trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Shelbayh is the first Jordanian in history to win a Challenger tournament, an ATP match, and more recently claim a victory at a Grand Slam event.

He made his major debut in Melbourne in January, where he reached the final round of qualifying before falling in three sets to home favourite Omar Jasika.

Shelbayh arrives in Dubai coming off a tight opening round defeat to world No 46 Alexei Popyrin in Doha. He now shifts his focus to his Dubai clash with the Netherlands’ Tallon Griekspoor, which is scheduled last on Court 1 on Monday.

“It’s very special to me to be able to represent my country in the Arab world at such a big event. It’s my first time here so I’m looking forward to being on court already,” Shelbayh told The National on Sunday.

“I’ve been playing great tournaments this year. Maybe not the result I was looking for last week (in Doha) but I think it’s going to be a great match, I’m going to give it my all and see what happens.”

Shelbayh is not the only Arab to be awarded a wild card in Dubai this week. Tunisian Skander Mansouri will be competing in the doubles main draw alongside Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, while his compatriot Aziz Dougaz fought valiantly in the opening round of qualifying before losing to Frenchman Luca van Assche.

“I’m always happy to see a few other guys also from the Arab world playing this tournament. Aziz and Skander are great friends of mine, I was very happy for them,” said Shelbayh.

“It’s important for us to get these wild cards in these tournaments to make that breakthrough. It’s not that easy to have these wild cards and it is very important for our motivation too because these tournaments are very big, internationally, so I think it’s good to have them.”

Mansouri has enjoyed an impressive run of results in doubles in the last few months and has broken into the top 100 for the first time four weeks ago.

The world No 98 has won seven doubles titles on the Challenger tour in the last 12 months, producing strong performances alongside his British partner Luke Johnson.

“It feels great. It’s always a goal of every tennis player to be top 100, so being top 100 in dubs a few weeks ago is very nice,” Mansouri said of reaching that milestone in the doubles rankings.

Mansouri’s success in doubles has come at the expense of his singles. Making it to finals weekend on most weeks has made it difficult for him to reach his next destination in time for his singles qualifying matches but for now, it is a sacrifice Mansouri is willing to make, given how well he’s been performing in doubles.

His goal now is to crack the top 70 with Johnson so they can compete at the Grand Slams.

In Dubai, Mansouri and Qureshi will kick off their campaign against top-seeded duo Matthew Ebden and Rohan Bopanna.

“It's great to be here in Dubai. I’ve always watched this event on TV since I was young and being here is awesome,” said the 28-year-old Mansouri.

He is thrilled to be sharing this experience in the Emirates with other Arab players like Shelbayh and Dougaz, adding: “It is (more special) for sure. We’ve known each other for so long and we’re usually hanging out together at lower tournaments than this one and it’s great being here and seeing each other in the player lounge, practising together and everything in an ATP 500 and hopefully we’ll see more of this in the next couple of years.”

Updated: February 27, 2024, 10:38 AM