When Ammar Alhogbani took the court to face Zhang Zhizhen at the Asian Games in September, it was more than just an opportunity for the Saudi to prove his worth against a player in the Top-100 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
Despite falling 7-5, 6-2 in Hangzhou, the 25-year-old Alhogbani’s performance against Chinese star Zhang made him realize he was ready to return full-time to professional tennis after some time working as a national team development officer at the Saudi Tennis Federation.
“I played against Zhang and I almost took the first set,” the Saudi No. 1 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings told ATPTour.com on Saturday in Jeddah. “I thought, ‘If I almost take the first set against a guy like this, there’s a good chance he can do well with full-time training. I almost took the first set when I train three or four times a week and without a coach.’”
Born in Saudi Arabia, Alhogbani and his family moved to the United States when he was three years old. After growing up in Ohio and then Virginia, he played college tennis at the University of Virginia, where he was part of an NCAA championship-winning team as a freshman. However, for various reasons, Alhogbani’s playing career stalled after graduating and returning to Saudi Arabia in 2021.
“After college I hurt my wrist, at first I wanted to give it a push [en la clasificación]”Alhogbani said. “Then I got the job in the federation, so that slowed it down. This year [jugué] at the Asian Games and some other ITF events, when I had limited training.”
“My brother (fellow Saudi Davis Cup player Saud Alhogbani) now plays college tennis in the United States at Wake Forest, so I don’t really have anyone to train with. So I go to Futures events and train for the first week. “I’ve had good results, so I want to give it a full go in the next few years, just to see how far I can go on the court.”
Finding rally partners has been less of a problem for Alhogbani this week at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM, where the Saudi has practiced with several of the competitors in the season-ending under-21 event in Jeddah. On Saturday, he hit top seed Arthur Fils to help the Frenchman warm up before his championship match against Hamad Medjedovic.
“I’ve hit with most of the guys [esta semana]”Alhogbani said. “I hit more with Arthur. It is a good moment. Obviously, they have different playing styles. Some guys like to be on top of the baseline and harass me, but I got to play a couple of sets against some of them, so it was really cool.”
Alhogbani (center) before the duel between Dominic Stricker and Arthur Fils in the group stage. Photo: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
As a huge supporter of Saudi tennis, Alhogbani is delighted to have been part of the first ATP-sanctioned event in his homeland. He sees it as a historic moment for tennis in a country that is making great strides in a variety of sports.
“This is a big step. Obviously, we have had [exhibiciones] in the past, but this is the first event sanctioned by the ATP, so it’s something really important for us,” Alhogbani said. “The sports industry is booming and football has been king here for a long time. Now tennis is a priority sport, so having tennis at the forefront and holding this event go hand in hand.”
“It’s pretty cool. The children see all the players and seeing it is believing it. “I think it will inspire a lot of kids to come play.”
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Whatever the future of Saudi tennis, Alhogbani is unlikely to be the only member of his family to play a major role. He competes alongside his 20-year-old brother Saud on the national Davis Cup team, and also made history alongside his 19-year-old sister Yara Alhogbani at this year’s Asian Games.
“This time it was really cool, because I went with my sister,” said Alhogbani, who first played in the Asian Games when she was 15 in 2014. “We played mixed doubles, and that was Saudi Arabia’s first mixed doubles team.” .
Yara Alhogbani and Ammar Alhogbani at the Asian Games in Hangzhou. Photo: courtesy of Ammar Alhogbani.
With so many recent groundbreaking moments for Saudi tennis, Alhogbani hopes that his family’s achievements on the court and hosting the Next Gen ATP Finals can be a starting point for continued development.
“Obviously the tennis culture here is not that big, and it’s a dream to make it bigger,” he said. “I would love to see more people in general picking up rackets and seeing more facilities… For me, as a player, I want to see Saudi tennis at the highest level. “I think we’re all looking for a player who can break through, and more of these events would help with that.”