The arrival in Jeddah of the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM is set to inspire a generation of young Saudi tennis enthusiasts, not least those who will be just meters from the action next week at the King Abdullah Sports City .
From November 28 to December 2, the first ATP tournament will be held in Saudi Arabia. It will be a historic moment for tennis in the Gulf nation and promises to be especially memorable for the team of 19 ballkids, aged between 10 and 15, who will be on hand to help the event run smoothly.
“I’m very excited. I play tennis five or six times a week, so I also train as a ball boy a couple of times a week,” ball boy Sulaiman Ashoor told ATPTour.com on Saturday in Jeddah. “I had already seen tennis live at a tournament in Riyadh. I saw Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem. It was a lot of fun. I like to see the players up close because if they can do it, it means I can too.”
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Sulaiman’s sister, Tala Ashoor, is one of the six ballgirls on the team. A tennis fan and player like her brother, Tala is eager to savor the experience of being on the court with some of the best young professional players in the world.
“I’m very excited, it’s my first time being a ballkid, but I’m also nervous,” says Tala, who was asked by her tennis coach to participate in training for the event. “The training was a lot, but it’s fun. My friends and family will come see me when I’m on the track.”
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 free time, and she especially admires a pioneer of the Arab sports world.
“I play tennis six times a week and my favorite player is Ons Jabeur (Tunisian WTA star),” says Tala. “I mostly play tennis, but I also like ping-pong.”
Abdulaziz Aloqibi, another ballkid, hopes that spending time under the lights of the King Abdullah Sports City’s indoor hard court will be a small stepping stone on his own path towards a future in professional tennis.
“I’m excited because my dream is to be a tennis player and I really want to meet tennis players,” Abdulaziz declared. “When I’m older, I want to know what it’s like to be on the court and what it feels like in front of thousands of people.”
“I play tennis six days a week, for two hours. My favorite player here is without a doubt Dominic Stricker, I like him a lot. On the ATP Tour I also like Novak Djokovic.”
Una ballkid en las Next Gen ATP Finals 2023 presented by NEOM. Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Regardless of what their future holds, ballkids who step onto the court this week will have a unique opportunity to witness high-level professionals competing against each other up close.
“I am very excited because it is the first time I have this experience,” declared Fares Ayman. “Being on a court where tennis players play. I’m very excited, but at the same time it makes me nervous. Before I only watched tennis on television, so that makes me more nervous.”
“I play about six days a week and have done so for the last two years. I like Rafael Nadal because he is left-handed like me, and a fighter. He doesn’t leave any balls.”