Williams sisters paved way, says Gauff after US Open win

Coco Gauff received congratulatory messages from former Barack Obama and President Joe Biden. (AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2023

Williams sisters paved way, says Gauff after US Open win

  • The 19-year-old from Florida battled to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Aryna Sabalenka at the Arthur Ashe Stadium

NEW YORK: Coco Gauff said tennis icons Serena and Venus Williams paved the way for her breakthrough US Open triumph on Saturday after the American teenager captured her first Grand Slam title.

The 19-year-old from Florida battled to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Aryna Sabalenka at the Arthur Ashe Stadium — where as a child she had watched the Williams sisters dominate.

The win ensured Gauff will have her name etched into tennis history alongside other Black American women to lift the title such as the Williams sisters, Althea Gibson and Sloane Stephens.

“It’s crazy. I mean, they’re the reason why I have this trophy today, to be honest,” Gauff said of the Williams sisters.

“They have allowed me to believe in this dream growing up. You know, there wasn’t too many just Black tennis players dominating the sport. It was literally just them that I can remember when I was younger.

“Obviously more came because of their legacy. So it made the dream more believable. But all the things that they had to go through, they made it easier for someone like me to do this.”

Gauff referenced the Williams sisters’ 14-year boycott of the prestigious Indian Wells tournament — due to alleged racist heckling and Venus Williams’ push for equal pay for women at major championships.

“You look back at the history with Indian Wells, with Serena, all she had to go through, Venus fighting for equal pay,” Gauff said.

“Words can’t describe what (Serena and Venus Williams) meant to me. I hope another girl can see this and believe they can do it and hopefully their name can be on this trophy too.”

Gauff’s breakthrough victory will catapult her to a new level in the hierarchy of American sport.

Hollywood celebrities and sports stars such as NBA greats Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler were on hand to witness Saturday’s triumph.

She was soon bombarded with congratulatory messages from former US President Barack Obama and current President Joe Biden.

“Congratulations to US Open champion, @CocoGauff,” Obama wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“We couldn’t be prouder of you on and off the court — and we know the best is yet to come.”

As the dust settled on Saturday’s victory, video footage of Gauff dancing in the crowd as a fan at the US Open rapidly went viral.

Asked what message she would send to her younger self, she replied: “I would tell her don’t lose that dream.”

“That little girl, like she had the dream, but I don’t know if she fully believed it,” Gauff said. As a kid, you have so many dreams. You know, as you get older sometimes it can fiddle away ... I would tell her don’t lose the dream. Keep having fun.”

Gauff admitted that she had lost belief in herself at times in the years since she burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old prodigy making a deep run at Wimbledon in 2019.

Last year, she was distraught after losing her first Grand Slam final at the French Open. This season she hit rock bottom after a first round exit at Wimbledon in July.

That defeat at the All England club prompted her to bring the veteran Brad Gilbert into her coaching team. Immediately her fortunes improved, with a win at the Washington Open in August followed by a breakthrough first WTA 1000 title at the Cincinnati Open.

“You know, people, I don’t know, I just felt like people were, like, ‘Oh, she’s hit her peak and she’s done. It was all hype’,” Gauff said of the reaction to her Wimbledon loss.

“I see the comments. People don’t think I see it but I see it,” she told reporters. “I know who’s talking trash and I can’t wait to look on Twitter right now.”

Gauff added that she had used the pain of her crushing French Open final loss to Iga Swiatek last year — where she won only four games in a straight sets defeat — to spur her to Saturday’s win.

“The French Open moment, I don’t know if they caught it on camera but I watched Iga lift up that trophy, and I watched her the whole time. I said, ‘I’m not going to take my eyes off her, because I want to feel what that felt like for her.’

“That felt like craziness today lifting this trophy. It hasn’t sunken in and I think it probably will maybe in a week or so.”

History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event

Updated 29 November 2023

History made on opening day of Saudi Arabia’s 1st pro tennis event

  • Arthur Fils, Flavio Cobolli, Luca Van Assche, Hamad Medjedovic come out on top at start of Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM

JEDDAH: Top seed Arthur Fils became the first ATP Tour winner on Saudi Arabian soil on Tuesday at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM.

Flavio Cobolli, Luca Van Assche, and Hamad Medjedovic followed suit with wins in the first day’s play at King Abdullah Sports City.

Fils and Luca Nardi made history in the opening session as the first ATP Tour players to play in Saudi Arabia.

The 19-year-old Fils, the top-ranked player in the finals, prevailed 2-4, 4-3(6), 4-2, 1-4, 4-2 in a stern five-set test to make a winning start in the Green Group.

After the match, Fils said: “It was a tough match. The first time in my life I’m playing first to four games. Things can change very quickly. I was leading two sets to one, had break points, and I was feeling very good. Then I lost a deuce point, and everything changed, but I’m really happy to win today.”

On Wednesday the Frenchman will face the other winner in the Green Group, Cobolli. The Italian stunned 2022 semi-finalist Dominic Stricker for a winning start on his debut at the Next Gen ATP Finals in four sets; 4-2, 3-4(7), 4-1, 4-2.

Switzerland’s Stricker is the only player at this year’s event to have competed at the innovative tournament before and has previous experience playing in Saudi Arabia at last year’s Diriyah Tennis Cup.

But Cobolli was not fazed, starting fast as he adjusted to the newly implemented no warm-up rule, part of a range of innovations being incorporated.

Cobolli said: “I warmed up for a lot of time today, so I was really hot on the court. I started the match really well. The courts are so fast, but I was faster (than Stricker). I played a really good match and I’m really happy.”

Van Assche joined fellow Frenchman Fils as a first-day winner in a physical four-set win over Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh. After splitting the first two sets that were filled with punishing, extended baseline exchanges, the tournament’s second seed broke clear of Shelbayh in the third and ultimately closed out the match 4-3, 3-4(5), 4-1, 4-1.

Shelbayh thrilled enthusiastic local Jeddah fans with his creative angles, net approaches, and regular drop shots but Van Assche’s slight edge in the backcourt was telling.

Van Assche said: “It was a tough match today against a very tough opponent. I know Abdullah very well, he’s an amazing player. He was almost at home with the crowd cheering for him. It was a good match for me and really tough from the beginning to the end.”

The final match of the day saw Serbian Medjedovic win a five-set thriller — 4-2, 4-3(3), 3-4(3), 3-4(5), 4-3(4) — against the American Alex Michelsen.

Next Gen ATP Finals stars sightsee in Jeddah ahead of tournament

Updated 26 November 2023

Next Gen ATP Finals stars sightsee in Jeddah ahead of tournament

  • Ahead of the first ATP-sanctioned event to be held in Saudi Arabia, the players took time to visit the historical site

LONDON: The stars of the Next Gen ATP Finals visited Al-Balad, the historic old town of Jeddah, for this year’s official group photo on Sunday.

Ahead of the first ATP-sanctioned event to be held in Saudi Arabia, the players took time to visit the historical site, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.

“We’ve had a really fun time,” said 19-year-old American Alex Michelsen. “Everyone’s been having a lot of laughs. People were great and to see the old city was really, really cool.”

On the tour, the players met local Saudi graffiti artist Maajed Ahmed who has designed a bespoke ATP Next Gen piece of street art on Al-Balad’s walls.

Jordanian Abdullah Shelbayh, who received a wildcard for the event, said he enjoyed spending time with his competitors in Jeddah ahead of the tournament, which starts on Tuesday.

“It was exciting to do this with the players, they are pretty funny guys,” he said. “It was good to spend some time together outside of competition.”

Frenchman Arthur Fils, who won his maiden tour-level title in Lyon earlier this season, said Jeddah was a “great city,” adding the “people are very welcoming, I am liking it.”

Fils’ countryman Luca Van Assche practised for the first time in Jeddah on Saturday before visiting the city.

“It is an incredible experience for us,” he said. “I have never been here so it is a new country for me and civilisation and I am happy to be here to see some of the city. It is very beautiful.”

Two Italians, Luca Nardi and Flavio Cobolli, will make their debuts at the 21-and-under event. Both had fun sightseeing and playing rooftop tennis.

“It is very nice here,” Nardi said. “We are having a very good day visiting the city. I like it and the people are very nice. My first time playing tennis on a roof. It was very nice and seeing kids come. It was a nice atmosphere.”

Cobolli said: “It was a great day and I’m very happy to be here with the Next Gen class.”

Seven of the eight competitors are tournament debutants, with the exception of 2022 semifinalist Dominic Stricker.

“It was a great tour,” Stricker said. “We saw a few things of Jeddah. Seeing the old buildings and taking pictures. It is a good event and I am looking forward to playing.”

Draw announced for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Saudi Arabia

Updated 26 November 2023

Draw announced for tennis’ Next Gen ATP Finals in Saudi Arabia

  • Season-ending tournament, presented by NEOM, to be staged at King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah

JEDDAH: The draw for the Next Gen ATP Finals, starting in Saudi Arabia next week, has been made.

The season-ending tennis tournament, presented by NEOM, will be staged at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah from Nov. 28 with the final taking place on Saturday, Dec. 2.

The draw, that took place on Saturday night, was divided into two groups. The red group will have Luca Van Assche, Alex Michelensen, Hamad Madjedovic and Abdullah Shelbaya while the greens will consist of Arthur Fils, Dominic Stricker, Flavio Cobolli and Luca Nardi.

The tournament has been organized by the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Tennis Federation, that signed a partnership with ATP for a period of five years until 2027.

The top eight players aged 21 or under in the 2023 ATP Tour qualified for the event, although there have been withdrawals as world No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz and world No. 8 Holger Rune (both 20) will not feature as they competed at the ATP Finals.

The tournament prize pot will be a record $2 million, with the champion at this year’s event set to earn $514,000.

Three matches at this year’s Next Gen ATP Finals will be worth more than $100,000. Each semi-final victory will be worth $113,500 and the championship match will yield the winner $153,000. The participation fee for each player at the event is $150,000.

Jordanian tennis star Abdullah Shelbayh ‘honored’ to compete in Jeddah Next Gen ATP Finals

Updated 25 November 2023

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.

Jordanian Abdullah Shelbayh keen to dazzle on Arab soil at Jeddah’s Next Gen Finals

Updated 24 November 2023

Jordanian Abdullah Shelbayh keen to dazzle on Arab soil at Jeddah’s Next Gen Finals

  • Talented lefty hopes to finish season on a high with strong showing at 21-and-under event

With a career-high ranking next to his name and a maiden Challenger title under his belt, rising Jordanian Abdullah Shelbayh is looking to cap his strong 2023 campaign with a memorable performance at the upcoming Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah.

The event, which features eight of the best players on the ATP Tour aged 21 and under, is into its sixth edition and will be staged in Saudi Arabia for the first time following a five-year stint in Milan.

Shelbayh, who turned 20 earlier this month, was awarded a wildcard into the tournament and is relishing the opportunity to showcase his talent on Arab soil.

After starting the year ranked 473 in the world, the Rafa Nadal Academy player has shot up the charts to crack the top 200 for the first time and land at 187 this week.

The Amman native scooped his first Challenger trophy in Charleston last month and posted the first two ATP match wins of his career — in Banja Luka and Metz.

Shelbayh also claimed three victories over top-100 opponents over the last nine months and will now take his tricky lefty game to the courts at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City, where the Next Gen Finals will take place from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2.



“I was trying to get in with my own points, but it was tough to make. Many other players had really good seasons, and I couldn’t make it by ranking, unfortunately. But then two weeks ago, I was told about the wildcard and I was very happy of course. It’s a great opportunity for me to play in an Arab country, so I’m very blessed with this opportunity,” Shelbayh told Arab News in an interview.

The Next Gen Finals, held in collaboration with the Saudi Tennis Federation, is the first ATP tournament to be held in Saudi Arabia and is likely the start of lots more tennis to come the Kingdom’s way — something Shelbayh believes will be beneficial for players across the region.

“I think it’s a great move from them, very smart,” said Shelbayh. “I think that’s one of the main things the Arab world needs in terms of development for tennis. Having such great events in the Arab world will help push the players and (allow) for federations to create more players and have the sport bigger and bigger in the Arab region.

“This move from the Saudi federation was, I think, the smartest business-wise but also in terms of helping future generations in the Arab world.”

Besides showcasing the tour’s top young talent, the Next Gen Finals have been used by the ATP to test new rules and innovations in a fast-paced format across five days of competition.

As per previous editions, the scoring format will be best of five tiebreak sets. Each set will be first to four games with a tiebreak played at 3-3. Games will be played using the No-Ad scoring format with the server choosing the service box.

This year, the focus will be on introducing ways to enhance fan experience and enrich data and analytics for players and coaches. One method to achieve that is through wearable devices that will allow players to track and visualize biometric data during matches, providing a comprehensive overview of their physical performance and stress responses.

To speed up play, there will be no on-court warm-up, meaning a match will start immediately after the coin toss and a new maximum of eight seconds will be introduced between first and second serves.

“I know the rules are different, they’re very unique, but that’s what makes this tournament very special,” said Shelbayh.

“It’s going to bring out the best of each one of us because it’s going to be tougher on all of us. The matches are going to be tighter, more intense, but it’s going to be more fun for the fans to watch, since you’re going to have many close matches.”

Many of today’s household names on tour have competed at previous editions of the Next Gen Finals including former world No.1s Daniil Medvedev and Carlos Alcaraz, who won the tournament in 2021 and became a Grand Slam champion less than a year later at the US Open.



Could it provide a launchpad for Shelbayh entering 2024?

“There are many great players that have played the Next Gen Finals. Many players had breakthrough seasons the year after or two years later, but I’m not thinking that much about it,” said Shelbayh.

“Of course, it could be a great opportunity for me to push through and have a jump that can help me with my confidence for next season, start well and have another breakthrough. But I’m not going to (pay) much attention to that and put too much pressure on myself.

“I just want to enjoy the opportunity, give my best and hopefully get a good result. I’ll take everything step by step and not look too much into the future to avoid the bad pressure I can put on myself.”

Shelbayh has enjoyed a fast rise in tennis, but it hasn’t come without its challenges. He started 2023 in style, making the final of the Challenger event in Bahrain in February, which was just his third participation at that level.



In April, he successfully made it through qualifying at an ATP event for the first time and things seemed to be developing nicely for the then-teenager. But by July, he hit a rough patch and he lost in the opening round at seven of his next 10 events.  

He felt his rapid ascent had forced him to skip some essential steps and was playing catch-up on every front — physically, technically and emotionally.

“Skipping those steps was not helpful for me because then you kind of feel lost and I felt lost at some points and some tournaments,” he confessed. “Dealing with that was not easy because it was my first year on tour and everything (was) happening way too fast for me. I didn’t realize the importance of each department of tennis — the tennis part, the psychological part, the fitness part; skipping a few steps here and there held me off for some time.

“I paid the price, but at the same time it’s a good problem to have since you realize you had a good rise, a quick one, you just got to get back to those few steps, the important ones in order to go back up again and do well in your tournaments.”

Things turned around for Shelbayh in Charleston, where he stormed to the title and reaffirmed his status as a rising star to watch.

“I would say it was mixed emotions after winning my first Challenger title. A bit of relief, a lot of joy. I got emotional,” said Shelbayh.

“Even if I would have won the title in Bahrain, I think this title would have been more meaningful for me because of the struggles that I had in the previous months.

“The week turned out to be very good for me, I would say the most special and the most important of my career so far.”

Shelbayh’s very last week of the season prior to the Next Gen Finals was also special. He made it through qualifying to earn a slot in the main draw at the ATP tournament in Metz, France and defeated home favorite and world No. 83 Hugo Gaston to reach the last 16. That run helped him secure a spot in the top 200 for the first time and he is now guaranteed a place at next January’s Australian Open qualifying draw.



In Metz, Shelbayh walked on court wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh, also known as the hatta, in solidarity with the people in Gaza. As a Jordanian with Palestinian origins, Shelbayh felt the urge to show his support in a meaningful way and says the words of Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who broke down in tears in an on-court interview last month speaking of the lives lost in Gaza, had truly touched him.

“I thought it was a good idea to do that, given my background and everything,” said Shelbayh of wearing the hatta on court.

“It’s difficult moments right now with what’s happening in the world, many children dying, women, elderly, it’s very tough. I thought it was a good way for me to show them my support. Of course, all of us in the Arab world are going through the most difficult times, and (have been for) many years. So, I just wanted to show the best support possible and just hope for peace, to have peace in the world. I just want peace, like all of us want.”