DUBAI: Solely hours earlier than Tunisian tennis famous person Ons Jabeur launched her Wimbledon 2022 marketing campaign in opposition to Sweden’s Mirjam Bjorklund, she was confirmed as world quantity two, the best rating of her profession.
It was additionally the best ever for an African or Arab tennis participant, feminine or male.
For Emirati tennis pundit Khalid Al-Ali, Jabeur and different feminine gamers from North Africa are serving to to lift the profile and recognition of tennis like by no means earlier than.
“You’ll be able to cut up the Arab world in two, and the Maghreb international locations, like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, along with Egypt, are very superior in tennis,” he stated. “In addition to Ons, there’s the Egyptian participant Mayar Sherif, who has ranked within the sixties. And that’s additionally proof that girls’s tennis is extra superior at this cut-off date than the boys’s, the place nobody has reached these ranges.”
As a tennis lover, Al-Ali enjoys, specifically presently of the yr, the established traditions that Wimbledon holds pricey, and the extraordinary rivalry on court docket for the boys’s and ladies’s titles, which is that this yr tinged by a attainable altering of the guard and politics.
“Wimbledon began in 1877, it has such wealthy heritage,” he stated. “Traditions similar to sporting all white, and having no promoting hoarding across the courts, have been maintained till now. There are modifications this yr, nonetheless. Gamers used to enter the courts from the aspect however this yr there’s a new custom and the gamers will probably be making their entrance from the center of the court docket.
“Additionally, it’s the primary time that Wimbledon’s middle court docket has been opened for apply earlier than the beginning of the match. Historically, nobody was allowed to step on (middle) court docket earlier than the primary official match, so these are two new additions.”
However maybe the largest change this yr is one among personnel.
“For the primary time in 24 years, Roger Federer will miss the championship,” stated Al-Ali. “In order that differentiates this version, as does the banning of Russian gamers. For that cause, the ATP has withdrawn all factors that will have been awarded, as they see that as politics interfering with sports activities.
In Federer’s absence, eyes will, as soon as once more, inevitably flip to reigning champion Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, now ranked third and fourth on the planet.
“Djokovic has received the final three tournaments, and logically, on grass he’s the primary seed,” Al-Ali stated. “After that as at all times, Nadal, even once we don’t think about him a favourite, imposes himself on the match like we noticed in Roland Garros. Earlier than Roland Garros he had misplaced in Roma to Denis Shapovalov, the Canadian.
“And there have been doubts that it will be his final match, as his physique can’t take the accidents anymore. However he received it and now his confidence is excessive, and he hopes to realize one thing that Novak nearly managed however couldn’t. That’s the Golden Grand Slam, successful all 4 (majors) in the identical yr. He’s already received in Australia and Roland Garros. He enters Wimbledon along with his dream nonetheless alive.”
“Final yr Djokovic received the Australian Open, then Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and headed to the US Open with excessive hopes of reaching one thing that solely Rod Laver, the Australian participant, had managed. He did it twice, as soon as earlier than professionalism, which didn’t depend within the report books, however he got here again to do it once more after the Second World Warfare.”
Djokovic misplaced the US Open ultimate in straight units to Daniil Medvedev. That setback and the unsavory episode on the Australian Open — when he was detained as a result of he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19 — have been huge blows to his morale.
“However he has an amazing likelihood to hit again at Wimbledon,” Al-Ali stated. “Additionally among the many favorites will probably be (Stefanos) Tsitsipas, (Matteo) Berrettini, who received two grass tournaments this yr, and who was the shedding Wimbledon finalist final yr in opposition to Djokovic. You’ll be able to slender it all the way down to these gamers.”
“Andy Murray returns as a wild card as he has low rating,” Al-Ali added. “Bodily he won’t be prepared, however enjoying in entrance of his crowd might see (him) adapt.”
Within the ladies’s competitors, Wimbledon welcomes again the nice Serena Williams, who, with 23 Grand Slam titles, nonetheless has hopes of equaling the ladies’s report of 24 held by Margaret Courtroom.
“Serena Williams returns as a wild card after a protracted absence,” stated Al-Ali. “She performed a doubles (sport) with Ons Jabeur at Eastbourne, the place they reached the semifinal, however Ons needed to withdraw by harm. It was a slight harm however she didn’t need to irritate it forward of Wimbledon.
“Williams appeared heavier and was not the Serena we’re used to. However she nonetheless has a shot or two that’s suited to grass, so she might presumably advance together with the favorites.
“In fact, (world primary) Iga Swiatek is among the many favorites, and so is the Swiss participant (Belinda) Bencic. After which there’s the return of Petra Kvitova who received at Eastbourne, and has been Wimbledon champion twice.”
“In ladies’s tennis there are at all times surprises,” Al-Ali stated.
Jabeur, although now the world quantity two is seeded third at Wimbledon, and the Emirati commentator has excessive hopes for her regardless of the heightened degree of expectation.
“She reached the quarterfinals final yr, which was her finest efficiency in a Grand Slam,” stated Al-Ali. “She is beneath a variety of stress, however she is enjoying splendidly, and her model fits grass. We would simply see her within the ultimate.”
One other run into the latter rounds, and her military of followers within the Arab world — to not point out her hero standing — will proceed to develop. For Al-Ali, it’s hoped that her achievements, and people of different African Arabs, will someday unfold to the remainder of the Center East.
“Geographical location at all times performs a job, whether or not in sports activities or every other discipline,” he stated. “Proximity, prices, mentality, being near the center of this sport. It’s a sport that began in France and was then (organized by the) English. At its coronary heart, there’s a sure way of life, many sacrifices for the gamers, particularly feminine gamers. However we see the Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians and Egyptians excel on this sport. And naturally the dimensions of the inhabitants is an element. They’ve skilled this training sooner than on this area.”
Within the UAE and the GCC, the recognition of tennis continues to develop, because of the growing numbers of occasions going down, he stated.
“Fortunately, issues are enhancing right here. All of the world’s finest gamers come right here to Dubai, so the recognition of the game has elevated,” stated Al-Ali. “What Ons is doing is much like what occurred in China. China is an enormous and nice nation, however tennis solely turned widespread after Li Na received two Grand Slams, at Roland Garros and the Australian Open. After that, the nation began to concentrate.”
“So we hope that with Ons Jabeur, and after the rise of the three Moroccans Karim Alami, Hicham Arazi and Younes El Aynaoui, extra will come,” he added. “There’s Abdullah Shelbayh from Jordan who’s enjoying at junior degree at Wimbledon, and has received the doubles there. He trains at Rafael Nadal’s academy, I’ve excessive hope for him.”
With the suitable backing and funding, Al-Ali is definite the longer term will see extra Arab tennis gamers observe in Jabeur’s footsteps.
“We’re at all times optimistic,” he stated. “We’ve an attractive academy in Fujairah, established by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, and I’m on the board of administrators there. When Ons Jabeur was a junior she performed within the match there after it entered the ITF ranks, and Alexander Zverev received at Fujairah as effectively.
“We are not any strangers to organizing the most effective tournaments on this area, what we’ve to do now’s introduce improvement applications, we don’t have any clear applications in the mean time. Additionally there’s a lack of equality in funding between sports activities. We’ve to verify particular person sports activities like tennis are backed identical to soccer.”