The Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM‘s arrival in Jeddah is set to inspire a generation of young Saudi tennis enthusiasts — and not least those who will be just metres from the action next week at King Abdullah Sports City.
The first ATP-sanctioned event ever to be held in Saudi Arabia will take place from 28 November-2 December. It will be a historic moment for tennis in the Gulf nation and promises to be a particularly memorable one for the 19-strong team of ballkids, aged between 10 and 15, who will be on hand to help ensure the event runs smoothly.
“I’m really excited. I play tennis five or six times a week, so I had ballboy training a couple of times a week too,” ballboy Sulaiman Ashoor told ATPTour.com on Saturday in Jeddah. “I have seen live tennis before at a tournament in Riyadh. I saw Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem. It was really fun. I like seeing the players up close because if they can do it, it means I can do it.”
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Sulaiman’s sister Tala Ashoor is one of six ballgirls on the team. A keen tennis fan and player like her brother, Tala is ready to relish the experience of being on court with some of the world’s best young professional players.
“I’m really excited, it’s my first time being a ballkid, but I’m also nervous,” said Tala, who was asked to take part in training for the event via her tennis coach. “The training was a lot, but it’s fun. My friends and family will come to watch when I am on court.”
Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM.” />
Tala Ashoor is one of the ballkids in Jeddah. Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Like her brother Sulaiman, Tala enjoys playing tennis and other sports in her spare time and particularly looks up to a trailblazer of the Arab sporting world.
“I play tennis six times a week and my favourite player is (Tunisian WTA star) Ons Jabeur,” said Tala. “I play tennis mainly, but I also like ping-pong.”
Ten-year-old Abdulaziz Aloqibi is hoping that spending time under the lights on the indoor hard court in King Abdullah Sports City will be a small stepping stone on his own path to a future in professional tennis.
“I’m excited because my dream is to become a tennis player and I really want to meet tennis players,” said Abdulaziz. “When I grow up, I want to know what it’s like to be on the court and how it feels to be in front of thousands.
Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM” />
A ballkid at the 2023 Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM. Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Regardless of what their future holds, the ballkids standing on court this week will have a unique opportunity to witness top-level pros competing against each other at close distance.
“I’m really excited about this because it is a first-time experience,” said Fares Ayman. “To be on a court where players are playing. I’m really excited but it’s making me nervous at the same time. I only saw tennis on TV before, so that’s making me more nervous.
“I play maybe six days a week and have done for the past two years. I like Rafael Nadal because he’s left-handed like me, and a fighter. He doesn’t leave any ball.”