When Ammar Alhogbani stepped on court to take on Zhang Zhizhen at the Asian Games in September, it was more than just an opportunity for the Saudi Arabian to prove himself against a Top 100 player.
Despite falling to a 7-5, 6-2 defeat in Hangzhou, the 25-year-old Alhogbani’s performance against Chinese star Zhang made him realise he was ready to make a full-time return to professional tennis after time away working as National Teams Development Officer for the Saudi Tennis Federation.
“I played Zhang, and I almost took the first set,” the No. 1 Saudi player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings told ATPTour.com on Saturday in Jeddah. “I was like, ‘If I’m almost taking the first set against a guy like this, there is a good possibility I can do well with [full-time] training. I almost took the first set when I’m training three or four times a week and with no 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 a NCAA Championship-winning team in his first year. Due to a variety of reasons, however, Alhogbani’s playing career stalled after he graduated and returned to Saudi Arabia in 2021.
“After college I hurt my wrist, at the beginning of when I wanted to make a push [up the rankings],” said Alhogbani. “Then I got the role at the federation, so that slowed it down. This year, [I played] at the Asian Games and some other ITF events, when I had limited training.
“My brother (fellow Saudi Davis Cup player Saud Alhogbani) is now playing U.S. college tennis 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 some good results, so I want to give it a full shot in the coming years, just to see how far I can take it on the court.”
Finding hitting partners has been less of a problem for Alhogbani this week at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM, where the Saudi has practised with several of the competitors at the season-ending 21-and-under event in Jeddah. On Saturday, he hit with top seed Arthur Fils to help warm up the Frenchman ahead of the championship match against Hamad Medjedovic.
“I’ve hit with the majority of the guys [this week],” said Alhogbani. “I hit with Arthur the most. It’s a good time. Obviously, they have different gamestyles. Some guys like to be on top the baseline and bully me around, but I got to play a couple of sets against some of the guys, so that was really cool.”
Alhogbani (centre) tossed the coin for the group-stage match between Dominic Stricker and Arthur Fils. Photo: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
As a big advocate of Saudi tennis, Alhogbani is delighted to have been part of the first ATP-sanctioned event in his homeland. He sees it as a milestone moment for tennis in a country making big strides across a variety of sports.
“This is a huge step. Obviously, we have had [exhibitions] in the past, but this is the first ATP-sanctioned event, so this is something that’s really big for us,” said Alhogbani. “The sports industry is booming, and football has been king here for so long. Now tennis is a priority sport, so having tennis at the forefront and having this event just goes hand in hand.
“It’s really cool. The kids get to see all the players, and seeing it is believing it. I think it’s going to inspire a lot of the kids to come and play.”
Whatever the future of Saudi tennis, Alhogbani is not likely to be the only member of his family playing a big role. He competes alongside his 20-year-old brother Saud in the nation’s Davis Cup team, and he also made history alongside his 19-year-old sister Yara Alhogbani at this year’s Asian Games.
“This time around was really cool, because I went with my sister,” said Alhogbani, who first played the Asian Games as a 15-year-old in 2014. “We played mixed doubles, and that was the first ever mixed doubles team from Saudi Arabia.”
Yara Alhogbani and Ammar Alhogbani at September's Asian Games in Hangzhou. Photo courtesy of Ammar Alhogbani.
With so many recent groundbreaking moments for Saudi tennis, Alhogbani hopes his family’s on-court achievements and hosting the Next Gen ATP Finals can be a starting point for continued development.
“Obviously tennis culture here isn’t so big, and it’s something that is a dream, to make it bigger,” he said. “I would love to see more people in general picking up racquets and see 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 to break through, and just more of these events would help with that.”.read full article