Dubai: Ines Feriel Ibbou, a young Arab player from Algeria, has received an outpouring of support from the tennis world, including the likes of Venus Williams and Nick Kyrgios, for standing up to Austria’s Dominic Thiem.
In an interview last week, Thiem had stated that he wouldn’t be willing to part with any money to support lower-ranked players on the professional tennis circuit.
Ibbou took to various social media platforms to convey exactly what she felt on the issue. In a nine-minute video, Ibbou – who is right now in Tunisia – told Thiem what she felt on his stance. “Your last words were hurtful to say the least, the reason why I decided to write you this open letter. Hopefully you’ll change your mind about me and many of us sharing the same situation after watching this video,” Ibbou told the Austrian star.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame you for what you are or this current situation because after all, it’s mainly up to national and international federations to look after tennis family and sort out difficulties, for the sake of this sport. But this answer is a way to bring light to our situation and maybe also protecting our integrity ... Our voice deserves to be heard also ... Thanks for those who helped me put my anger into words, and words into images.”
Born on January 5, 1999, Ibbou has a career-high WTA ranking of No. 604 in singles and No. 741 in the doubles. She has so far won two singles and two doubles titles on the ITF Women’s Circuit.
In April, current World No. 3 Thiem had expressed his displeasure with some of the top players including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal backing a plan to financially support lower-ranked players who had lost their tournament income because of the coronavirus shutdown.
“None of them are going to starve,” Thiem had told an Austrian newspaper, explaining that many of those players had not made it to the top because they “don’t put the sport above everything else”.
“I wouldn’t really see why I should give such players money. I would rather give money to people or organisations that really need it.”
In her response that was sent to all major media outlets across the world, the 21-year-old Ibbou said life is tough for any tennis player, especially women athletes from Africa. “You know that in a country like mine it’s not easy for a woman to be a high-level athlete,” she pointed out to Thiem in her emotional letter.
“I grew up in a very modest family with parents who had nothing to do with tennis. We don’t choose where we are born. I cherish the day when I’ll be able to afford a gift for my parents.”
Lying lower down the rankings, Ibbou has so far made a modest $27,825 (Dh101,000) on the WTA Tour and had earned a mere $3,135 this season before play was halted due to the coronavirus.
As a player, Ibbou compared herself to Thiem who was in a better position to afford more things such as a coach and support staff. “I’m a lonely lady, travelling the world, who’s always looking for the cheapest tickets,” she said.
Ibbou also went on to list all the obstacles she has faced as a young player in Algeria, such as poor facilities, no international coaches, no professional tournaments, no guidance on how to plan a professional career and no assistance from the government as well.
“Dear Dominic, what would have been my career if I was in your shoes? Sponsors, you say? They don’t even exist in Algeria,” she remarked.
Though Thiem is yet to respond to the letter, it has brought forth reactions from other players including Venus and Kyrgios.
“You’re my hero,” Venus reacted under Ibbou’s post on Instagram.
Kyrgios, who had already criticised Thiem, added “Respect” and some emoticons and promised his support.
The implicit criticism of her own country also drew a response from the Algerian government. Last week, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tweeted that “Algeria cannot lose a sporting talent like Ines Ibbou”. And a day later, Sports Minister Sid Ali Khaldi posted on Facebook that he had called Ibbou and “assured her of the state’s readiness to support her”.
“Helping players is helping the game to survive. We do not ask anything of you except a bit of respect,” Ibbou addressed Thiem.
Last week, the WTA and ATP along with the ITF and the four Grand Slam tournaments said they had set up a ‘Player Relief Programme’ to help the players hardest hit by the coronavirus. The contribution to this package has so far crossed $6 million.