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Top-tier tennis and beach volleyball on show in Qatar

Top-tier tennis and beach volleyball on show in Qatar
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Euronews
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Qatar has become an established venue for high-level international sport. In tennis, both the WTA and ATP tours had their respective tournaments in Doha in February. And beach volleyball World's Beach Pro Tour Finals were held in Doha for the first time.

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Qatar has become an established venue for high-level international sport. In tennis, both the WTA and ATP tours had their respective tournaments in Doha in February. And beach volleyball World's Beach Pro Tour Finals were held in Doha for the first time.

Playing an international tournament on home turf

21-year-old Mubaraka Al-Naimi is Qatar’s highest-ranked player. She featured in the recent Qatar TotalEnergies Open, which welcomed some of the best players in the world.

Mubaraka Al-Naimi is a natural on the tennis court. But it wasn’t love at first swing.

"At the beginning, I didn’t want to play tennis," she says. "But my mom put me with my brother and then I started competing and winning some matches and then becoming number one all categories here in Doha."

While her brother eventually stopped playing, Al-Naimi quickly fell in love with the sport.

"Now tennis is part of my life," she says. "It’s like routine for me playing every day. It’s hard because I’m studying also in university. So, I’m trying to manage my time, competing, and studying at the same time. Tennis is my passion."

Coach Mounir Elaarej first met Al-Naimi at the Qatar Tennis Federation when she was 6 or 7 years old. Fast-forward more than a decade and he’s seen significant improvement in his star player.

"Technically, she’s one of the good players we have in Doha," he says." And she’s improving, she’s improved a lot in the way she's hitting the ball, moving on the court, on the way behaving on the court. We saw a lot of progress."

She hopes her presence in the Qatar TotalEnergies Open will inspire more young girls to pick up a racket. Her coach hopes she’ll one day be ranked among the top 100 players in the Women’s Tennis Association. and the competition is fierce.

"Millions of people are trying to get inside of WTA," he says. "So the chance is very small but every player has his hope and trying his best to be there."

World N° 1 seeks to be a role model

And sometimes hope can turn to reality. Even 21-year-old world number one Iga Swiatek, who won this year’s Qatar TotalEnergies Open, says she never imagined she’d be where she is today.

"It’s pretty nice to be in that kind of position because when I was younger I never would have thought that I’m gonna, you know, be some kind of a role model," she says. "So, I really want to give a good example and I always try to kind of remember that when I’m on the court in terms of like, showing my emotions and frustrations. So, it’s also like motivating me to work harder on myself."

Hussein Sayed/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Iga Swiatek in QatarHussein Sayed/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

Right after the Australian Open opens serve on the new tennis season, the men’s and women’s Qatar Open tournaments provide a chance for top players to sharpen their skills, while also offering a platform for players still trying to make a name for themselves.

"With our national teams, we are trying to encourage players to grow up their level to participate in such an event," says Saad Al Mohannadi, the tournament director from the Qatar Tennis Federation. "And every year we give a wildcard to the highest national ranked player in women’s and men’s and this makes us very proud that we are leading on this and we are investing and every year we have a little bit of improvement on this and we are happy with that."

For Al-Naimi, her happiness is on the court. But she’s also studying Business at university, so balancing school and sport is an added challenge on a journey she hopes will encourage others.

"So, I would love to inspire all the Qatari women and lately we’ve had a lot of sportswomen in the region, especially in Qatar after the World Cup," she says.

As one of the few Arab female tennis players, just her presence alone will no doubt inspire a generation of future players.

A breakout year for Felix Auger-Aliassime

2022 was a breakout year for Felix Auger-Aliassime. The 22-year-old Canadian won his first singles title - four of them, in fact - and became the 6th-ranked men’s player in the world. Now he hopes to build on last season’s success, coached by Rafael Nadal’s uncle.

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" I was thinking at the end of last year," he said. "Do I see it as like a fresh start, like a new year, or do I like, just, keep going and try to see it more like continuous progress of my career, going forward? I felt more like, I had to think about just keeping on going like I was doing, keep on focusing on the things that are important for me, keeping my body fit, being healthy, of course first. And then just training well so, when I come to tournaments I’m prepared, and I feel like I’m playing good."

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Felix Auger-AliassimeEuronews

Despite being Canada’s top-ranked player, Auger-Aliassime went through his own fair share of challenges, getting into eight finals before finally winning one.

"It was a huge relief," he says. " I was this young player, a promising player, always since I was 14, 15 years old… so, of course, it was kind of a weight but at the same time, I think, a good pressure, motivation: I was like okay… people are talking about the player that I could be and also myself, I feel I can be a good player but I have to kind of prove that to myself and others. But then to lose all those finals I was like… Sometimes doubt would creep in: can I be that guy, you know, can I be that top 10 player, even better than I wish I can be and that everybody is talking about? So, when I got over the hump it felt like I also played some of my best tennis in an important match, there was a huge relief."

Doha? It's my first time but it’s like really a futuristic city. You feel that they have this grandiose idea of making it like a city of the future. So, it’s nice to see all of that.
Felix Auger-Aliassime
Tennis player, Canadian N°1

It's important, he says, to ride the highs and the lows.

"For me the main key is kind of having a balanced mind and stay relaxed and not get too, too excited when you win, not too frustrated when you lose, because this is about accepting the reality," he says. "For me, when I caught that idea and that mindset is like frustration comes from not accepting the reality that you’re facing, I mean, I could get frustrated when I’m losing or could get too hyped up if I win but, you know, that’s just the reality. If I win, it’s 'I deserved it because I trained hard and I played well' and if I don’t it means I need to go back to the drawing board and improve. So, it’s just about accepting the reality."

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Coached by Toni Nadal

Auger-Aliassime says that being coached by Toni Nadal, uncle and former coach of Rafael Nadal, has helped him.

"We work on a lot of things," he says. "When I’m on a court with him we talk about my technique, my game, how I can improve my shots to be a better player. I think he brought me a lot of confidence, he’s a great motivator, the way he talks."

It was the Canadian's first appearance at the Qatar Open.

"It’s a world-class event and then, also Doha is my first time but it’s like really a futuristic city," he says. "You feel that they have this grandiose idea of making it like a city of the future. So, it’s nice to see all of that and hopefully, I’ll get some time to visit a little bit."

Volleyball World's Beach Pro Tour arrives in Qatar

Qatar's multi-billion dollar investments in sports facilities laid the foundation for scoring several deals to host major international sporting events. Volleyball World's Beach Pro Tour is the latest addition to that list.

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Doha was chosen as the final stop in the Beach Pro Tour tournament, a culmination of 47 events and concluding with the crowning of the best beach volleyball team in the world.

"We've had a great history with bringing beach volleyball events to Qatar, and the Qatari team is actually one of the best in the world," says Finn Taylor, CEO of Volleyball World. "They won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. So, for us, creating a relationship with the Qatar Volleyball Association as well as with the Aspire Academy, was a natural next extension of bringing the sport to Qatar."

And by doing that, they’ve brought more fans to the country too.

"When you see the best teams, when you see the best players, they are giving their effort, they are doing their best," says Ali Ghanim Al Kuwari, President of the Qatar Volleyball Association. "So, you can find the followers and the spectators. The fans, they are following them, they like to see them and their country too."

Euronews
The recycled waste Beach Pro Tour trophyEuronews

With all eyes on the tournament, organizers saw an opportunity to take a stand on an important global issue - pollution. The champions of the event got to lift a unique, one-of-a-kind winners' trophy: made entirely out of recycled plastic trash collected from the world’s beaches. The trophy symbolises Volleyball World’s commitment to keeping beaches clean, so fans can enjoy the sport for generations to come.

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The Beach Pro Tour Finals is set to be held in Doha through 2025, but organisers are already looking beyond that and towards a long-term partnership.

"For us, Doha has become one of the principal cities of the Beach Pro Tour and for beach volleyball around the world," says Taylor. "So, we're looking to come back for as long as we can and as long as the Qatari people enjoy watching beach volleyball."

So, the ball is in Qatar’s court, but it’s the strong teamwork with international sporting organizations like Volleyball World that’s become the winning strategy for all players involved.

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