Young Jordanian Abdullah Shelbayh returned to the ATP 250 Qatar ExxonMobil Open for a second successive year, pushing Australian World No. 46 Alexei Popyrin to three sets leaving Nasser al-Khelaifi, President of the Qatar Tennis Federation, impressed.
The 20-year-old Shelbayh – who reached a career-high World No. 181 last month – produced a sensational opening set of his first-round tie before being pegged back by the older, more experienced Popyrin to eventually lose 6-3, 3-6, 4-6. He demonstrated aggressive net play, which tested Popyrin.
Al-Khelaifi was instrumental in the decision to award Shelbayh a wildcard for the $1.39mn event. Al-Khelaifi said: “That is what we are always looking for whenever we provide wildcards for the Qatar ExxonMobil Open – we want to use our position to help young players from across the region gain valuable experience. He showed great early signs of development, and I have no doubt he will benefit from this match, much as he did when he played here last year. It was great also to see him receive such strong support from the fans in the stands.”
A former Davis Cup player, al-Khelaifi has spoken often of his desire to grow the game in the Gulf and help the next generation of Arab players develop and reach a high level. By providing wildcards to young regional talents, he believes the game will only continue to grow both in Qatar and the wider region.
In the past decade, Qatar has firmly established itself as a premier international sports hub, showcasing its capacity to host world-class events. Through state-of-the-art facilities such as the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, the nation provides local and international athletes with the infrastructure needed for the development and promotion of sporting talent on the world stage.
Last year in November, former World No. 1 Rafael Nadal had described Shelbayh as “a very special talent”.
Shelbayh trains at Rafael Nadal’s academy and the 22-time Grand Slam champion has had a chance to take a closer look at the promising Jordanian’s game and his approach to tennis.
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