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'Bring The Energy': Fils Ready To Lead France's Next Generation In Style

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

‘Bring The Energy’: Fils Ready To Lead France’s Next Generation In Style

19-year-old is top seed at Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM

Arthur Fils knows what he wants from a tennis match.

Whether watching at home or strutting his stuff on court himself, the #NextGenATP Frenchman values style just as highly as he does substance. Fils attributes that belief to a generation of natural-born French entertainers whom he grew up admiring.

“I watched a lot of Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and of course I know Yannick Noah because he won Roland Garros,” Fils told “[Style] is so important, because when you watch a tennis match you don’t want to be on the couch and just see one game, one game, one game. You want to see some highlights, and I think with Monfils, Tsonga and the backhand of Richard Gasquet, we saw a lot of highlights.”

The 19-year-old Fils demonstrated some of his own shotmaking ability on Tuesday in Jeddah, where he beat Luca Nardi in his first match as top seed at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM. Fils is in Saudi Arabia attempting to cap a breakthrough year, during which he rose from No. 249 to No. 36 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and lifted his maiden ATP Tour trophy in Lyon.

That title run at a clay ATP 250 was one of a series of impressive performances Fils produced in his homeland this season. He reached an ATP Challenger Tour final in Quimper in January and back-to-back semi-finals at indoor ATP 250s in Montpellier and Marseille in February before his Lyon triumph. Some players struggle to handle the expectations of a home crowd. Fils relishes it.

“The home support is incredible,” he said. “Us guys are playing for this kind of energy, for this kind of crowd. When you play at home, everyone is supporting you, everyone is screaming your name. It’s something deeper and I think if I’m French, and I’m going to play elsewhere, it is not going to be the same as when I’m playing at home. We are playing for this kind of stuff.”

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A country steeped in tennis history, France’s wait for a men’s singles Grand Slam champion this year stretched to 40 years. Public expectation for a first male major winner since Noah at Roland Garros in 1983 is something that the likes of Monfils, Gasquet and the now-retired Tsonga have all been burdened with.

None of those players have managed to break the duck, but Fils still views his more experienced compatriots as a vital source of advice as he prepares to lead his country’s charge, alongside fellow #NextGenATP Frenchmen such as Luca Van Assche and Arthur Cazaux, in the years to come.

“They help me a lot in the locker room, on the court and off the court,” said Fils of the older French players on Tour. “I don’t have any pressure [from the public], I just want to be as good as them or better than them, but no pressure.

“My goal in tennis is to enjoy every second I can on the court. To smile in every match that I’m playing and to try my best to win some great tournaments and if I can to go high in the rankings. I will try my best and I have some big goals.”

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While being free-spirited on court is often seen as something of a French trait, Fils is not basing his own approach on any of his ATP Tour colleagues, past or present. He has already shown himself as a charismatic presence who enjoys responding to big atmospheres, and he is ready to push as high as possible in his own unique way.

“My explosiveness and my physical condition [are my strengths],” said Fils. “The way I play helps me sometimes, because the crowd likes to support me a lot in physical battles.

“It’s something in my personality to bring the energy. It’s not important for my game, but important for myself.”

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Stricker's Superstar Athletes He'd Like To Have Dinner With

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

Stricker’s Superstar Athletes He’d Like To Have Dinner With

Swiss is competing at the Next Gen ATP Finals for a second consecutive year

Dominic Stricker made his Top 100 debut in September following a fourth-round appearance at the US Open, where he stunned seventh seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in a five-set, second-round thriller. The lefty also collected two ATP Challenger Tour titles this season to become the first Swiss player to win five trophies at that level before his 21st birthday.

But what is the 21-year-old like off-court? caught up with the World No. 94 in Jeddah to discuss his love for golf, football and more…

If you could have dinner with three people, who would they be and why?
Roger Federer, really nice guy. I would also go for Tiger Woods, because I really like to play golf. Then maybe I would go for Michael Jordan, because we know what he has done in sport is amazing.

What’s the most interesting thing that you have done in your life?
When I was young, I did a lot of fishing. That was something I really enjoyed, out on a boat in Switzerland.

Any particular fish that you would catch?
Not really, just a bit of everything.

Describe your perfect day if you are not playing tennis.
I would say trying to sleep as long as I can and then get some good breakfast. I think I’ll go for a round of golf and after I would maybe go into the city in Switzerland somewhere to get a nice dinner. Go to bed maybe and watch some series of Netflix or something.

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What’s the best round you’ve ever had golfing?
Lowest score was 74, two over par. I think it was this year, it was a good round.

Do you play golf right-handed?

If you weren’t a tennis player, what job would you want?
I think it would be something with sports. But when I was young, I actually went one day to see how the job is as a teacher in school. But I’m happy that I that I chose tennis, I think it’s better for me.

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned so far from playing on Tour?
A lot. I think one of the best ones is you have to be very serious with travelling, with all these temperature changes, it is not that easy when you get out of the plane or into the plane and all that stuff. I think that’s a big lesson I had to learn.

Who are some of your best friends on Tour?
All the players that are here, we’re very good friends. But also all the Swiss players. Everyone is a nice guy with everyone who’s playing on Tour now. It’s just a great team we also have for Davis Cup. We always have a nice group.

If you had to choose between attending a music concert or a sporting event, what would you choose and why?
I’d go for sport for sure. I think I would go for soccer in Switzerland and I would go for Young Boys Bern because it’s my club. They are my favorite team in Switzerland and football. I’m also from Bern, so as soon as I’m home I’m trying to go watch their matches.

Out of the rule innovations featured at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM, what’s the one you are most excited to watch?
I think it’s going to be interesting with this no warmup. I think it will be very special because usually you have a few minutes to warm up, to find your game a bit. But now it’s going to be really interesting.

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Shelton, Rune, Murray Among Stars To Compete In Brisbane

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

Shelton, Rune, Murray Among Stars To Compete In Brisbane

Murray and Dimitrov former champions set to play ATP 250

Ben Shelton is among the stars who have committed to play the Brisbane International, which will be held in the first week of the 2024 season alongside the United Cup and the Bank of China Hong Kong Tennis Open.

“I’m thrilled to be playing the Brisbane International for the first time in 2024. My first trip to Australia was last January, and it was such an amazing experience. The fans were so welcoming,” Shelton said in a tournament press release. “I’m looking forward to exploring Brisbane and playing in front of the local fans. Hopefully, there will also be a chance to fit in some sightseeing during my visit.”

Other players who will compete in the ATP 250 include recent Nitto ATP Finals competitor Holger Rune, former World No. 1 Andy Murray and 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov.

The ATP 250 will be held for the first time since 2019. Murray is a two-time champion at the event and Dimitrov won the tournament in 2017.

The Hologic WTA Tour will have a WTA 500 event at the same time, with Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and Naomi Osaka among the players set to play.

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Acapulco Fundraising For Recovery From Hurricane Otis

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

Acapulco Fundraising For Recovery From Hurricane Otis

Tsitsipas, Dimitrov and Zverev share their support

Last month, a category five storm, Hurricane Otis, caused significant damage to Acapulco, home of the Abierto Mexicano Tell presentado for HSBC.

Tournament organisers have launched a fundraiser to support the city’s rebuilding efforts. Donations can be made to the effort, which is in partnership with ONG Construyendo.

Players who have competed in the tournament have shared their own support of the cause.

Stefanos Tsitsipas said: “This natural disaster has created a crisis and Acapulco needs your help. The tournament together with ONG Construyendo is leading the way and trying to rebuild this whole city. Your effort is much appreciated.”

Grigor Dimitrov said: “It’s been very, very difficult seeing what’s happening with Hurricane Otis out there. [Acapulco is] one of my favourite tournaments that I love playing, that I’ve played and I’ve won. I’m very saddened to see how everybody’s struggling out there.”

Alexander Zverev said: “Donate to help raise money to rebuild the beautiful city of Acapulco and to help the people of Acapulco. Let’s rebuild this beautiful place.”

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Van Assche Wins Physical Opener With Shelbayh

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

Van Assche Wins Physical Opener With Shelbayh

Second seeds starts strong in Red Group

Luca Van Assche joined fellow Frenchman Arthur Fils as a first-day winner at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM, but only after a physical four-set win over Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh Tuesday in Jeddah.

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(5), 3-4(5), 4-1, 4-1 as Shelbayh’s movement was impacted by cramps in his right quad later in the match.

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. Shelbayh also paid the price for converting just two of 17 break points.

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“It was a tough match today, against a very tough opponent. I know Abdullah very well, he’s an amazing player,” Van Assche said. “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.”

“It’s very difficult to not have a warm up before the match, so I just hit a couple of balls before in the second court.”

Shelbayh clipped 28 winners to Van Assche’s 17, but his 34 unforced errors proved costly, as did his cramping, which he attributed in part to the tension of the moment.

“With the importance of the moment and thinking that I had my chances against the top seed in my group, and knowing that I had great fan support as the only Arab player here, that had something to do with the cramping,” Shelbayh said. “I just have to find a way to not let that happen in big moments again.

“The shot clock in terms of timing between serves and the shorter points was interesting, although it didn’t really affect me because I don’t take too much time between points. The free fan movement and noise during points is a little different, but we know the rules are unique to this tournament and we all play by them.”

Physicality Index Insights
This was by far the most physical match so far of the tournament, although only four sets. Van Assche’s physicality index was heavily driven by acceleration/deceleration activity. Van Assche hit 98% of the highest work load (1161) seen across the 2021 and 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals and performed 30% more explosive movements (530 vs. 408) than Shelbayh over the course of the match.

The first two sets were the most physical of the tournament so far. If the first two sets had been repeated for a four-set match, the match Physicality Index would have been 10 for Van Assche and 9.7 for Shelbayh. Van Assche covered 1.21 km in the first two sets, which was almost as much distance as Stricker covered in his four-set match. In closing out the match in the forth set, Van Assche doubled Shelbayh in high speed distance (60 to 31m) and explosive movements (151 to 63).

Learn more about the Physicality Index

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Cobolli Sinks Stricker In Jeddah

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

Cobolli Sinks Stricker In Jeddah

Italian moves to 1-0 in Green Group

Flavio Cobolli made a winning start on debut at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM on Tuesday, when he overcame 2022 semi-finalist Dominic Stricker 4-2, 3-4(7), 4-1, 4-2.

Stricker is the only player at this year’s event to have competed at the innovative tournament before, but Cobolli was not fazed by the Swiss’ prior experience. The Italian made a fast start as he adjusted to the no warm-up rule, while he won the majority of the No-Ad points to take control.

With his one-hour, 39-minute win, Cobolli improved to 1-0 in Green Group play. Arthur Fils also earned victory on Day 1 of the first ATP Tour sanctioned event in Saudi Arabia, defeating Luca Nardi.

“I warmed up for a lot of time today, so I was really hot on the court,” Cobolli told “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.”

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Cobolli, who struck 25 winners in his first Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting against Stricker, has enjoyed an impressive year, winning an ATP Challenger Tour title in Lisbon. He also cracked the Top 100 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time in October.

“I think the match didn’t feel quicker, but with these new rules, anything can happen,” Cobolli added. “This was the first match, so let’s see how it goes tomorrow.”

Stricker competed at the innovative event before, playing under the first-to-four games, best-of-five-set format. The 21-year-old has also earned strong results on indoor hard this year, advancing to the quarter-finals at the ATP 500 in Basel, where he earned a Top 10 win against Casper Ruud.

He was unable to deal with Cobolli’s intensity and tempo on Tuesday, though, falling to defeat in the round-robin stage at the 21-and-under event for the first time.

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Fils Downs Nardi For Historic Win In Jeddah Opener

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

Fils Downs Nardi For Historic Win In Jeddah Opener

19-year-old top seed overcomes Italian in Green Group

Arthur Fils became the first ATP Tour winner on Saudi Arabian soil on Tuesday at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM, but only after the top seed overcame a stern five-set test from Luca Nardi in Jeddah.

The 19-year-old Fils prevailed 2-4, 4-3(6), 4-2, 1-4, 4-2 against his Italian opponent to make a winning start to Green Group. The Frenchman won 80 per cent (33/41) of points behind his first serve to ensure a winning debut at the season-ending 21-and-under event.

“It was a tough match. The first time in my life I’m playing first to four games,” said Fils in his on-court interview. “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.”

Perhaps needing more time to settle due to the absence of an on-court warmup (one of several new innovative rules in place for this week’s tournament), Fils struggled for consistency off both wings across the opening 45 minute at King Abdullah Sports City. He crucially saved a set point before winning the second-set tie-break, however, and held his nerve again in the deciding set for a two-hour, three-minute triumph.

“I had a good [warm-up],” said Fils. “I went to play with my coaches 15 minutes before the match, so I came to the court very warm… It’s [nonetheless] very tough to play without the warm-up.”

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Fils has enjoyed a breakout year on the ATP Tour, clinching his first title at that level in Lyon in May. He will finish the season at No. 36 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, having started 2023 at No. 249 — the biggest jump into the Top 50 from last year of any player on Tour.

Third seed Dominic Stricker and fifth seed Flavio Cobolli are the other two players in Green Group. The pair is next on court in Jeddah, where the eight-strong field is split into two groups of four.

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Let's Get Physical: Day 1 Insights In Jeddah

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

Let’s Get Physical: Day 1 Insights In Jeddah

In-depth analysis of Tuesday’s matches

The ATP and Tennis Data Innovations (TDI) will deliver unprecedented insights at the 2023 Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM. Using state-of-the-art tracking metrics, the insights will assess the physical capacity required to compete at the highest professional level of our sport.

Read more to learn about Tuesday’s matchups in Jeddah.

Arthur Fills vs. Luca Nardi

The 2023 season was a breakout year for Arthur Fils, winning his first career ATP250 title in Lyon, helping springboard him to a career high ranking of No. 36 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Fils is an aggressive baseliner, looking to dictate play with his serve and forehand. He likes to keep the points short and on his terms.

Coming into the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM, Fils played one of his most physical matches of the year against Tommy Paul in Shanghai. He showed in this match that he was able to handle the volume and intensity of the most physical matches played in the last two years at the Next Gen ATP Finals. In that match Tommy Paul forced Arthur Fils into performing 41 per cent more high speed distance (meters).

Luca Nardi is coming into the Next Gen ATP Finals with a career high ranking of No. 115 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. He played the majority of his matches at the ATP Challenger level, winning two Challenger Tour events. Nardi is a solid baseliner, who also likes to dictate play with his forehand off the ground. He also has the ability to extend the rallies with his speed, forcing his opponents to hit one additional ball. One thing to watch over the course of this event are the number of explosive movements Nardi will have to perform, compared to his opponents.

Keys to the Match
High Speed Distance – Which player can force the other to cover more high speed distance? Both players like to play with their forehand from the ad court, making it harder for their opponents to find their backhand. Whoever can control the middle of the court with their forehand, and make the other have to defend the backhand will put themselves in the best position possible to win the match.

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Dominic Stricker vs. Flavio Cobolli

Stricker has one advantage that the other players will not have and that is competing in the 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals. Last year, Stricker made it out of the group play, going 3-0. He also played one of the most electric matches in last years event, against current World No. 27, Lorenzo Musetti. This was the 2nd most physical match from the 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals.

On average, Stricker runs less distance and has the lowest work load per minute in the Next Gen ATP Finals. His reliance on playing first strike tennis requires him to move at an all-around lower rate than the other NextGen players. The serve and forehand is what sets up the advantage, allowing him to attack his opponent from inside the baseline.

Flavio Cobolli is a solid baseliner, who is a strong mover from the baseline. He covers the most distance and high-speed distance per minute of all the Next Gen players at this tournament. He has the ability to turn his defense into offense, by using his speed to get behind more balls in a balanced position.

Keys to the Match
Stricker has been pushed to his limits and has shown he can handle the volume and intensity required to win a five-set Next Gen ATP Finals battle. So can Flavio Cobolli force Dominic Stricker to run more and work harder over the course of the match- forcing him to defend more with the backhand.

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Luca Van Assche vs. Abdullah Shelbayh

Luca Van Assche played the most physical ATP match this year of any player in the draw, when he fell to Diego Schwarzman in three sets. This best of three match is one of two that he has played in 2023 that was tougher than any match played in the 2021 and 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals. Van Assche also recorded a 10 on the Physicality Index scale when he outlasted three-time grand slam champion Stan Wawrinka; he backed this up with a 9.5 PI in the next round, pushing Novak Djokovic to a deciding set. Recording a higher Physicality Index than his opponents in over 70 per cent of his matches on tour this season, Van Assche has proven that he is prepared for a physical battle every time he steps on court.

Van Assche’s gamestyle requires him to work for every point. His lack of a big weapon off the ground is made up by his ability to handle high volume and high intensity movements. His average physicality index rating is 12 per cent higher than his opponent Abdullah Shelbayh. The higher PI rating is coming from the total volume output (distance and work load). On average Van Assche is moving per cent more distance per match and has a 35 per cent higher work load than Shelbayh.

Facing one of the fitter players on Tour, Abdullah Shelbayh will look to be aggressive and avoid long sequences of extended points. While he has demonstrated an ability to perform at high levels of intensity, Shelbayh has advanced in eight different tournaments this year when keeping his PI under a 7.

Key to the Match
Even though on average Van Assche covers more distance, has a higher work load, and executes more explosive movements per match, Shelbayh has the capacity to match the volume and intensity of Van Assche. Who is going to be able to bring higher intensity and maintain it deeper into the later part of the match?

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Alex Michelson vs. Hamad Medjedovic

The 19-year-old American, Alex Michelson comes into the Next Gen ATP Finals winning nine of his past ten matches, pushing him into the Top 100 for the first time in his career. The 2023 season was a breakout year for Michelson, reaching his first career tour-level final in Newport and winning two ATP Challenger events. Michelson will take on the 20-year-old Serbian, Hamad Medjedovic, who has also had a breakout year. Medjedovic won three ATP Challenger events and qualified for the main draw of two of the Grand Slams, making it through the qualifying rounds.

Both of these players have proven that they are able to go deep into events, multiple weeks in a row, proving they have the physical capacity to compete at the highest levels of this sport week in and week out. Both players have similar gamestyles. They can play from the middle of the court with both their forehand and backhands. The biggest difference in their styles of play is that Medjedovic is going to look to play more from the offensive, with Michelson looking to counter-attack.

Keys to the Match
You should see a lot of the rallies finishing from the backcourt, with not a lot of play transitioning forward. This match is going to come down to who will be able to keep the better court position and make the other player move in and out of the corners of the court. The player who can make their opponent accumulate the higher number of explosive movements and run the most high speed distance should have the advantage in this match-up.

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First Fuelled By Fabio, Cobolli Now Fashions His Own Italian Style

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

First Fuelled By Fabio, Cobolli Now Fashions His Own Italian Style

Jeddah fifth seed is No. 100 in Pepperstone ATP Rankings

Just days after Italy won its first Davis Cup since 1976 — led by former Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM champion Jannik Sinner — two more Italians are set to compete at this year’s 21-and-under showcase in Jeddah.

Flavio Cobolli leads the charge, looking to cap a breakout season in which he debuted in the Top 100 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and won his second ATP Challenger Tour title. The 21-year-old, joined in Jeddah by countryman Luca Nardi, will hope to continue the success for Italian tennis this week.

Long before he watched Sinner’s 2019 title run at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, Cobolli grew up idolising another Italian: Fabio Fognini, whom he now calls a good friend.

“My biggest idol is Fabio, and Nole [Novak Djokovic],” Cobolli told “I grew up with Fabio’s matches and I tried to improve my game watching him, so I remember a lot of his matches. I usually don’t like to watch matches, but I love to watch his matches.

“When Fabio is playing, I’m on the TV. When he’s not playing, I’m not.”

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Cobolli fondly recalled a 2014 Davis Cup match between Fognini and Andy Murray, when a Fognini win sparked a final-day comeback to send Italy to the semi-finals. After growing up as a fan of the stylish shotmaker, Cobolli now has a strong relationship with Fognini both on and off the court.

“We are good friends. If I have some problem I speak with him always,” he said. “I also work with him because he has a management company, so he is like my manager also. I’m not working with him because he’s still playing, but I work with his agency. So I spend a lot of time with him, and if we are in the same tournament we are always together, at dinner or for some practice. I cheer for him in his matches and he’s the same for me.”

Even with great examples like Fognini and Sinner to follow, Cobolli is eager to fashion his own path on the ATP Tour: “I want to create my own game, my own road,” he said.

Aided by strong support from the Italian Tennis Federation, he picked up four tour-level wins this season, including two in a Munich quarter-final run. On the ATP Challenger Tour, he won a title in Lisbon and reached a final in Olbia, Italy — both in October, leading to a career-high Pepperstone ATP Ranking of World No. 95.

“It was of course special, because this year I worked a lot,” Cobolli said of his Lisbon trophy run. “I played 36 weeks, a lot. I was tired but I think that title means a lot for me and for the season. But I don’t want to stop now. I want to push more for the goals of 2024.”

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Sustained success across that busy schedule has earned Cobolli the fifth seed in Jeddah. But this is not his first experience at the Next Gen ATP Finals. At the 2021 event in Milan, won by Carlos Alcaraz, the Italian was on site as an alternate.

“It was a big experience for me because it was one of the first times that I hit with the biggest young players in the world, like Alcaraz, [Juan Manuel] Cerundolo and [Hugo] Gaston,” he reflected. “I learned a lot from those practices. I think that week did a lot for my tennis.”

Now it’s time for Cobolli to compete amidst the pageantry in Jeddah. Looking at the big picture, it seems the Italian won’t be satisfied until he’s added his own new chapters to his nation’s rich tennis history.

“I don’t want to stop,” he said, discussing his breakthrough into the Top 100. “I want to be in the future of tennis.”

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Nadal On Shelbayh: 'He's A Player With A Very Special Innate Talent'

  • Posted: Nov 28, 2023

Nadal On Shelbayh: ‘He’s A Player With A Very Special Innate Talent’

Jordanian is playing in Next Gen ATP Finals this week

Editor’s note: This story was translated from

Abdullah Shelbayh will enjoy a very special few days this week when he plays in the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM in Jeddah. It will be the icing on the cake of a season in which the Jordanian has knocked down countless barriers. He now has an opportunity to introduce himself to the world.

“It will be a great experience for me and a great opportunity to demonstrate my level and enjoy the big matches I’ll play against the best players in the world,” Shelbayh told “It’s a great opportunity, and it’ll be really fun knowing that I’m in an Arab country. Particularly for my country, for Jordan, it will be very special. Also for the tournament, having a player from the Arab region will be very exciting and fun. I think I’m really going to enjoy this opportunity.”

Shelbayh will be the first player from Jordan to compete at the Next Gen ATP Finals after receiving a wild card. At 20 years of age, he has claimed wins on the ATP Tour this season in Banja Luka and Metz, and also became the first player from his country to win an ATP Challenger Tour title when he took the crown in Charleston in October.

“This year has been my first season on Tour, but so far it’s been the best of my career in general,” said Shelbayh. “I managed to win my first Challenger title. It was very special, knowing that I had some very tough months this summer, and a lot of changes around me. It hasn’t been the best time off court, so it was fantastic to win that title at such an important time of year. Honestly, I’m very happy with the way I played that week.”

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That victory in Charleston, which came in October with a win over Oliver Crawford in the final, provided a boost with 75 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points (he is currently World No. 187) and allowed him to have an important conversation with Rafael Nadal, the 22-time Grand Slam champion.

“He told me it was a big step in my career, and that I had to enjoy myself and not be content,” explained the Jordanian. “He told me that I couldn’t be content with just one result because everyone is trying to improve at the same time, so you have to keep going with what you’ve been building. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to win all the big tournaments, but you have to keep up the good work and not let the important moments that will help you achieve your goal pass you by. It was very special to hear those words from someone like him, who has been my idol since I started to play tennis.”

“To describe Abdullah, you have to analyse his talent,” Nadal said. “I think he’s a player with a very special innate talent, capable of doing things that most can’t. With his style of play, it makes opponents feel very uncomfortable. I know because I’ve trained with him a number of times. And he’s added something very important to that: In the last year and a half he has taken a step forward in the way he experiences tennis.

“Really, he has realised that what he wants is to be a professional tennis player and he is working very hard toward that. I can only congratulate him for his dedication and for his hard work and encourage him to continue on that road. He’s had a very positive season, picking up good results, and has climbed up the rankings. Now an amazing moment is coming up for him, playing in the Next Gen ATP Finals. I’d like to wish him all the luck in the world. I’m sure it’ll be a very special tournament for him.”

Jeddah Old Town visit

Abdullah Shelbayh enjoys a laugh with fellow Jeddah competitors Alex Michelsen and Arthur Fils during a visit to Al-Balad.

Shelbayh joined the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in 2018, when he was 14, and has not stopped growing since. How did the Jordanian end up at the Spaniard’s academy in Manacor? Through a connection between Toni Nadal and Shelbayh’s agent, Princess Lara Faisal, a member of the Jordanian royal family. Over those five years, Shelbayh has evolved as a player and a person.

“When he arrived, he was a boy that did things well. We could see he had a certain ability, but nothing more than that,” explained Toni Nadal, who has watched the player’s progress throughout that time. “As the years have passed, I think he has improved in almost every aspect of his game. In the last year, his improvement has been palpable and definitive. I think he has gained maturity and commitment. He has a good chance of getting on the ATP Tour soon and he’s shown that in various tournaments playing against players who are among the best in the world. He has given them a good fight, and has even beaten some renowned players.

“If he maintains the same desire he has had recently, with the same willingness and the same commitment, I’m sure we’ll see him in the big tournaments soon, being one of the players that could challenge the best in the world. For us, for the academy, it has been a great source of satisfaction because he’s a player that was completely trained on our courts.”

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Shelbayh’s time at the Rafa Nadal Academy has helped him work his way up to the achievements he has produced in 2023. A large part of the Jordanian’s success is due to the working structure he has in Mallorca, at the academy of the 14-time French Open champion.

“I’ve been at the academy for many years and it’s like my home,” said the 20-year-old. “I represent the academy in every match I play. It’s a big name to carry on your shoulders. I’m grateful for everything the academy has done for me, everything Rafa has done, and all the players at the academy. I remember arriving many years ago and I wasn’t expecting it to be so special, I wasn’t expecting to spend so many years here. Once you have a good environment around you, everything is much easier.”

Carlos Moya, Nadal’s coach and a former No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, also shared insight into the Jordanian’s game.

“I think Abdullah is a different player, intelligent, unpredictable, and that’s what makes him fun to watch and a difficult opponent to read,” offered the Spaniard. “The chaos he has is very good, but if he can iron it out a little… he could be a player nobody wants to play. He hits incredible shots, and when you least expect it. The fact that he is unpredictable creates tremendous discomfort for his opponents. He mustn’t lose that and needs to improve his consistency a little more.”

What is the dream for any young player trying to become a professional? Practising with Nadal and his team, and being able to listen to his advice, must be high on the list.

“For me, personally, being able to train with Rafa, having Carlos Moya and Toni Nadal there… that’s something I could never have imagined,” said Shelbayh. “I always dreamed of it, honestly, but now it’s a reality. I hope things continue in that way. I’m very grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”

Shelbayh will play his opener at the Next Gen ATP Finals on Tuesday against Luca Van Assche. The Jordanian and Frenchman are in the Red Group alongside Alex Michelsen and Hamad Medjedovic.

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