Strong relations between Qatar and Jordan on show once again as 20-year-old Shelbayh justifies wildcard inclusion with spirited display against World No. 46 Alexei Popyrin on Monday night

Alanbatnews -
Al-Khelaïfi Hails Benefits of Wildcards as Jordan’s Shelbayh Pushes Top-50 Player to Three Sets at ATP 250 Qatar ExxonMobil Open

Al-Khelaïfi, President of the Qatar Tennis Federation, wants to help develop regional talent by providing opportunities and driving interest in the game

Young Jordanian Abdullah Shelbayh returned to the ATP 250 Qatar ExxonMobil Open last night for a second successive year, pushing Australian World No. 46 Alexei Popyrin to three sets under the lights in front of His Excellency Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, President of the Qatar Tennis Federation. 

The 20-year-old Shelbayh produced a sensational opening set of his first-round tie before being pegged back by the older, more experienced Popyrin to eventually fall 6-3, 3-6, 4-6. Demonstrating impressive, aggressive net play, Shelbayh – who reached a career-high World No. 181 last month – was cheered on by appreciative fans, some with Jordanian flags, inside the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Centre. His early exchanges immediately confirmed he was at home among a field that includes three of the world’s top 20 and is led by world No5 Andrey Rublev. 

Al-Khelaïfi was instrumental in the decision to award Shelbayh a wildcard for the US$1.39m event. The competition, which runs until 24 February and has been selected by players as the ATP 250 Tournament of the Year five times in the past nine years. 

Commenting on his pride in witnessing the Jordanian player’s impressive performance, standing toe-to-toe with a Top-50 player in Doha, Al-Khelaïfi 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. 

The decision to award Shelbayh a wildcard for a second consecutive year is further evidence of the strong relations between Qatar and Gulf neighbours Jordan, exemplified at the recent AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™ where the two countries both progressed to the final of the continental showpiece where they faced off in Doha amid a carnivalesque atmosphere.

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.