Today marks the birth of a brand new off-season event taking place in the Middle East.
The Diriyah Tennis Cup is the first ever international tennis competition to be hosted in oil-rich Saudi Arabia. A total of eight players on the men’s tour will feature in the multi-million dollar tournament, which has a prize money pool of $3M. It is part of the country’s drive to establish themselves as a sporting powerhouse in the world. Just last week Saudi Arabia hosted Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight fight against Andy Ruiz.
“The Diriyah Tennis Cup can inspire new players and new fans in Saudi — male, female, old or young. Our goal is to have our people engaged in tennis, inspired by tennis, taking part in tennis and connected as a nation by the sport.” Said Prince Abdul Aziz.
Whilst there is hype surrounding tennis’ latest event, just over a year ago Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was heavily criticised for planning to play an exhibition match there before cancelling it. At the time the country was implicated in the killing of a prominent journalist in one of its own embassies. Prompting widespread condemnation. Saudi Arabia have also been criticised for their poor human rights record.
Here is everything you need to know about the tournament.
Where it is being played?
Diriyah is where the tennis stars will grace their presence. It is a town located to the north west of the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The newly built Diriyah Arena, which is where the tournament takes place, has a footprint of 10,000 square meters. It took only two months to build and holds a capacity of up to 15,000. It is the same venue where Joshua’s ‘clash of the dunes’ boxing match took place last weekend.
Who is taking part?
For a brand new tournament, organisers have done exceptionally well to attract top names to the venue. The only former grand slam champion to take part is Stan Wawrinka. However, he isn’t the highest ranked player in the field. That honour belongs to world No.5 Daniil Medvedev, who enjoyed a meteoric rise during the second half of this year. Other top 20 players include David Goffin, Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils. The full list of entrants are the following :-
- Daniil Medvedev RUS (WR 5)
- Gael Monfils FRA (WR 10)
- David Goffin BEL (WR 11)
- Fabio Fognini ITA (WR 12)
- Stan Wawrinka SWI (WR 16)
- John Isner USA (WR 19)
- Lucas Pouille FRA (WR 22)
- Jan-Lennard Struff GER (WR 35)
What is the prize money and format?
The ability to attract a world-class field was substantially enhanced by the generous prize money that is available for those taking part. The winner exits with a payment of $1 million. To put that into perspective, Nick Kyrgios earned $384,120 for winning the Citi Open in Washington. An ATP 500 event. Even the quarter-finalist starts on $125,000.
Final Consultation round: $100,000
The structure of the tournament is similar to that of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, which started back in 2009. Held over three days, the knockout tournament will begin from the quarter-finals onwards. Consolation rounds (players who lost their previous matches) will also be taking place.
The order of play
Fognini’s clash with Isner will be the first ever match to be played at the event on Thursday. All four quarter-final matches will be played on the first day, followed by the semi-finals and final. On day two and three the consolation matches will be played.
Day 1 schedule
CENTER COURT start 04:00 pm local time
F. Fognini (ITA) vs J. Isner (USA)
G. Monfils (FRA) vs S. Wawrinka (SUI)
Not Before 8:00 pm
D. Medvedev (RUS) vs J. Struff (GER)
D. Goffin (BEL) vs L. Pouille (FRA
Why is a separate exhibition match taking place?
In a bid to showcase national talent, an exhibition match will take place on the last day of the competition. It will feature little-known player Ammar Al-Haqbani. The son of American-based diplomat Faleh Haqbani and a regular member of his country’s Davis Cup team.
“The Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi Aramco will have a significant impact on tennis in Saudi, especially for local tennis lovers and young talents who want to be professionals.” Al-Haqbani told arabnews.com.
“Watching closely as these big names compete at the Diriyah Arena will be a huge inspiration for them to work more and build their professional path in order to compete on the global stage in the future.”
His opponent will be former top 100 player Michael Mmoh, who was born in Saudi Arabia. His father was a part-time coach for the country’s Davis Cup team and his mother worked as a nurse. He moved to America at the age of 13.
“Having some of the best players in the world coming to the Kingdom can really inspire new fans to pick up a racquet and get on a court for the first time and play this great game.” Said Mmoh.
The exhibition match will be the first to be played on Saturday.
Novak Djokovic Survives Krajinovic Battle To Seal Last Eight Berth In Rome
Novak Djokovic reached an 85th Masters 1000 Quarter-Final in Rome.
Novak Djokovic survived a tough battle in Rome to beat Filip Krajinovic 7-6(7) 6-3 to reach the last eight.
Although the World Number one got the victory, it was a tough battle as he fought his compatriot for a place in the Quarter-Finals.
Breaks were shared to start the match as Krajinovic brought his fearless game to the top seed.
Djokovic created a total of ten break points, with only one executed as Krajinovic saved two set points in the tenth game to hold for 5-5.
After two comfortable holds, a tiebreak settled the winner of the first set as Djokovic was having a hard time to contain Krajinovic’s power.
The world number one battled from 3-0 down to edge the tiebreak 9-7 and win the opening set in 88 minutes.
Once Djokovic had survived the Krajinovic stormed, he took control and went into another gear as a break of serve in the third game was all that was needed to seal his place in the quarter-finals.
Winning 47% of his 2nd return points was key as Djokovic reaches his 85th Masters 1000 Quarter-Final of his career.
Next for Djokovic will be either talented teen sensation Lorenzo Musetti or Dominik Koepfer.
In other results today, Denis Shapovalov and Grigor Dimitrov set a last eight showdown after tight three set wins.
Shapovalov edged out Ugo Humbert 6-7(5) 6-1 6-4 while Dimitrov defeated Jannik Sinner 4-6 6-4 6-4 in a tough match.
There were also third round wins for Casper Ruud and Matteo Berrettini.
Rafael Nadal Missing Fan Support Despite Emphatic Win At Italian Open
The 19-time Grand Slam winner reacts to his latest win 200 days after his last.
The absence of a crowd at this year’s Italian Masters has been branded as ‘not beautiful’ by Rafael Nadal following his opening match on Wednesday.
The world No.2 raced to a 6-1, 6-1, triumph over US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta in what was his first competitive match of any sort since March 1st. Despite his lengthy break from the Tour, Nadal showed little rust as he dropped only eight points behind his serve and broke the world No.18 five times overall. The latest victory is Nadal’s 62nd in Rome and he has only won more matches at four other tournaments.
“Of course I have to improve things. The things that I have to improve, the only way to improve is to keep practising with the right attitude, the right intensity and to spend hours in competition matches,” he said afterwards.
“Today has been a positive start for me,” Nadal later added.
Choosing to skip the New York bubble due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nadal is still getting used to the concept of playing without the crowds. Something many of his rivals has already had experience of. The Italian Open had originally hoped to allow fans to enter its grounds before the local authorities ruled against it over concerns it could trigger an outbreak of the Coronavirus.
“It’s Not beautiful the feeling of playing without the spectators because the energy of the fans is impossible to describe. But for me, at least, today has been a very positive comeback,” Nadal assessed.
It is a case of wait and see as to how the Spaniard will fare in the coming days given his recent lack of match play compared to his rivals such as Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic. Fortunately for Nadal, he is playing on the clay which is a surface which he has won more ATP titles on than any other player in the Open Era. As for the upcoming French Open, will a lack of play in recent weeks be problematic for him?
“I don’t think so, no. If Roland Garros was this week, maybe yes. Roland Garros is two weeks away.” He concluded.
Nadal will next play either Milos Raonic or Dusan Lajovic who will play their second round match on Thursday.
Dominic Thiem And Thomas Muster: A Comparison
They are the only Austrian Slam champions in men’s tennis, but how do they stack up against each other?
The original version of this article was published on loslalom.it.
On October 24, 2011, Dominic Thiem had just turned 18 and was in the very early stages of his professional career, so the organisers of the ATP tournament in Vienna rewarded him with a wild card. On October 24, 2011, Thomas Muster had been 44 for about three weeks and at the sunset of his career, so he was also given the wild card for Vienna tournament. What no one could predict, neither the players nor the tournament organizers, was that the draw would pit them against each other in the first round, for what would be their first encounter, and ultimately the only one – after conceding with a 6-2 6-3 score in an hour and four minutes, Muster retired forever. He was the only Austrian to have won a Grand Slam tournament, in 1995 at Roland Garros, at least until Sunday night, when the then teenager who ended his career equalled him.
In the first decade of his career, Thiem has earned almost twice as much as Munster did in 18 (22 million dollars against 12). Thiem is right-handed, Muster a southpaw. Both sport one-handed backhands. It took 10 years for Muster to win a Major, and by the eleventh he was the world N.1, albeit not for long. He was a bona fide drop-shot chaser. It took nine years as a professional for Thiem to win at Flushing Meadows, but he has not yet risen higher than third in the ATP Ranking. Thiem is two inches taller (6’1’’ versus 5’11’’), he has an edge for the number of aces (5.8 per game on average against 3) and for the effectiveness of his first serve (74.2% vs 69.1%). The two are essentially tied with their second serve (53.2% vs 53.7) and in the break-points-saved department (62.9% vs 63%), but Muster is more dominant in the return games (31.6% break vs 23.5%) and, despite earning a street rep as a marathon runner, his matches were 11 minutes shorter than Thiem’s (an hour and 30 minutes against an hour and 41). His winning points ended on average in 35 seconds, Thiem’s in 37,8 seconds.
In his career Thiem has met stronger opponents, ranked on average at 35 in the world, while Muster’s foes usually hovered around number 52. Despite this, the latter managed to beat opponents better placed than him in the standings in only 9.8% of cases, while Thiem’s percentage is 12.3 %. On the contrary, Thiem was beaten in 21.4% of cases by tennis players ranked worse in the rankings, whereas this happened to Muster in 19% of cases, a percentage that drops to 13% when it comes to clay only. For a couple of weeks at the beginning of 2020, Muster coached Thiem.
The following chart summarises the numbers:
Gianni Clerici, the Italian Hall-of-Famer journalist and writer, gave Thomas Muster the moniker of “Mr Muscolo” (Mr Muscle). This is the portrait he made of him: “He’s not very nice, seven out of ten people say about Muster. A couple of them find him downright unpleasant. The remaining, meagre ten percent all but worships him. It is probably the attitude that does not appeal. His face appears incredibly rapacious, reminding of a bird of prey, or, if not strictly of an eagle or a hawk, at the very least of a possessed personality, those wide-open eyes animated by a blue and sinister light. But, even more than the face, what repels many people is his technique, his relentlessness devoid of human breathing which is fully on display as he gets back bopping on his side of the court a ripe thirty seconds before the established one minute and 25, while the unfortunate opponent is still splayed on his chair, trying to recover some breath and peace in the aftermath of the gruelling races that Muster locked him into. If the style is the man, well, the Austrian’s style does not capture the imagination. His serve is average at best, and he cautiously avoids volleying, but he has some great weapons, like that terrible loopy forehand and, in the last couple years, that no less terrible backhand slap. Come to think of it, even Muster’s ancestors, Borg and Vilas, were no less engulfing, less repetitive. But Borg had more athletic talent, his runs were very fluid, his sense of playing so high that he even managed to adapt to the Wimbledon lawns where he won five times and where Muster instead looks like a wretch. Muster has the athletic pedigree of champions but certainly not the charisma”.
Clerici also had the opportunity to write on Thiem for “la Repubblica” (an Italian daily newspaper), stating that “he was born with tennis in his blood, […] he has a refined hand, as can be seen with his drop shots and with his cross-court volleys,” then adding: “I have seen many times the Austrian go all-out on his backhand, as if he were holding an umbrella wide open, while his forehand is more akin to a machete.” Yesterday morning, he added that Thiem reminds him of “the tennis players of my time during the Fifties, when tennis was different from today, perhaps more beautiful to watch, a spectacles that intellectuals like Giorgio Bassani enjoyed, and that could have taken place in the genteel backyards sketched out in his novels.”
Translation and graphics by Andrea Canella
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