Ons Jabeur
Ons Jabeur Image Credit: Supplied

Ons Jabeur, the highest-ranked Arab player ever, has joined the star-studded line-up for the 13th edition of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship at the International Tennis Centre, Zayed Sports City, and will make history as the first Arab to play in the Championship when she takes to the court on Thursday.

Jabeur, from Tunisia, who reached a career-high ranking of world No. 7 last month, will face Tokyo 2020 Olympics singles gold medallist Belinda Bencic in the headline women’s match on Thursday, Day 1 of the three-day festival that runs from December 16-18.

Jabeur replaces US Open winner Emma Raducanu, who withdrew from the Championship after testing positive for Covid-19 upon arriving in Abu Dhabi.

Championship organisers also confirmed US No. 1 Taylor Fritz and British No. 2 Dan Evans will feature in the much-anticipated men’s draw.

Jabeur, Africa’s No. 1, has enjoyed a strong season, reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and winning her maiden WTA title by defeating Daria Kasatkina at the Birmingham Classic, making history as the first Arab to win a WTA Tour event.

“I am proud and honoured to be the first Arab woman to play the Mubadala World Tennis Championship,” she said. “2021 has been a terrific year for me and I know that the Championship is the best start to an exciting 2022 season. Abu Dhabi is a major sports destination and has always felt special to me, every time I come, I am grateful and amazed by the incredible welcome and support of the people. I look forward to bringing my A-game to the court and put on the best show possible for Abu Dhabi tennis fans,” said Ons Jabeur.

Fritz, who currently has a career-high ranking at No. 23, is the first American to play at the MWTC since Andy Roddick and James Blake in 2009.

He will play World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov in the opening match on Day 1.

“Playing in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, with such a strong line-up, gives me a great chance to start my 2022 season against the best and test myself. I look forward to making my debut in the Championship and meeting everyone in Abu Dhabi”, said Fritz.

Fritz replaces Casper Ruud, who has been ruled out through injury, saying: “It’s very unfortunate that I have to withdraw as I was really looking forward to making my debut in Abu Dhabi. Injuries are part of sport and while I won’t be making the trip this time, I hope to play in the Championship many times in the years to come.”

Meanwhile, Dan Evans, the British player who reached world No. 22 in September, replaces Dominic Thiem, the former US Open winner who expressed his disappointment over his withdrawal.

Thiem said, “I was looking forward to making my return to competition at Abu Dhabi but I feel that I am yet not ready to compete at the highest level. It’s disappointing to not take part this year but I need to continue my preparation for the upcoming season. I truly hope to return to the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in the future.”

Evans will take on compatriot and two-time MWTC winner Andy Murray in a battle of Britain in the second match on Day 1.

“I’m excited about playing in Abu Dhabi. I know there’s a lot of British fans there so it’s great that I’m facing Andy. It’s a great opportunity and the perfect test to start my new season.”

John Lickrish, CEO, Flash Entertainment, the Championship owners, said: “Unfortunately we have had to make some changes to our line-up due to injuries and Emma’s positive Covid-19 test. We wish them all a speedy recovery and hope to see them back on court and in Abu Dhabi again soon. We are however delighted to still deliver a world-class line-up, including a first for Arab tennis. We look forward to an exciting three days ahead.”