The first two international players to make history and reach the inaugural $1 million Diriyah Tennis Cup final are Russia’s world number 5, Daniil Medvedev and world number 12 Fabio Fognini of Italy, following a scintillating afternoon of action at the spectacular Diriyah Arena, located amongst the UNESCO heritage site of Ad Diriyah.
Once again, the players were greeted with perfect conditions and passionate fans, young and old, boys and girls as a second day of play of the Diriyah Tennis Cup presented by Saudi ARAMCO got underway with a further four matches held, including two tournament semi-finals and two consolidation matches.
In the first of the two semi-finals, Italian star Fognini overcame the spirited efforts of the ever-entertaining Frenchman Gael Monfils. Tennis was certainly the winner in a match that will live long in the memory and be remembered as much for smiles and fun being enjoyed on court as the final result, with both players showing fans in Saudi what world-class tennis is all about.
Speaking after the impressive straight sets win, 6-4, 6-4, Fognini said: “Gael and I play sometimes serious and sometimes funny and I think the crowd liked that. Tomorrow I have another chance to improve my game and hopefully I can continue in the final. Then I am totally ready for 2020. Of course, we are here because it is a new world of tennis and we want to help to show the people some tennis. We are eight of the best players and we really enjoy our time here.”
The second semi-final didn’t disappoint. Medvedev, a standout performer on the ATP Tour in 2019, maintained his remarkable form to outgun the dogged Belgium, David Goffin, 6-3, 6-3 to ease his way into the historic first Saudi final that many predicted he would feature in.
After the dominant victory the Russian said: “On beating Goffin – It’s always a 50-50 match against David. It was a big match for me and always tough against him as he makes you work for every point and chases everything on court.”
Looking ahead to the final he added: “It’s never easy to play Fabio, a tricky opponent – he played amazing today, hitting some amazing shots, he’s a really tough opponent. The main goal for me is to win the tournament. The fans really enjoyed the matches today and are getting into it and hopefully even more fans come tomorrow and we show them tennis for the very first time. Of course (the prize money) is in my mind – but most of the players don’t play for money, it’s more a bonus and we try to win tournaments.”
Earlier in the day, play started with the big-serving John Isner make up for his quarterfinal loss to Fognini on the first day by beating three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka in the semifinal of the consolation bracket. The 7-6, 7-5 result secured a place for the American in the consolation final against Jan-Lennard Struff.
“I did feel more comfortable today. Yesterday, at night it was colder, so I really liked the conditions today and I played better than yesterday. I think among all the good things of this event, the timing of it is for me very good. I come here, now I play three matches, then I go home and practice again,” Isner said.
“The cool thing about this event is, even if you lose, you are not out of it in that moment. I try to win the consolation [bracket] tomorrow. Jan-Lennard is very nice guy and a very good player. He hits the balls very hard, so it will be a tough match,” Isner added.
Although disappointed to have lost his two matches in Diriyah Tennis Cup, Wawrinka remained upbeat about his Saudi Arabian experience.
“I didn’t make any big points and I was missing my game a little bit. It was a very tough match. My aim for the next season is to be back in the top ten. I know what it takes to be there. Of course, it is another condition when you play at night as yesterday, but it is great to play here even if I lost my two matches. I was happy to be here, and I enjoyed it. I am very happy I had some matches here,” said the 34-year-old Swiss.
In the other half of the consolation bracket, Struff clinched a 6-4, 6-1 win over Michael Mmoh, the Saudi-born American player who was a last-minute entry to the consolation bracket of Diriyah Tennis Cup following an elbow injury to Lucas Pouille that forced him to withdraw. Mmoh’s replacement of Pouille did not go without a little bit of action though.
“It was a bit crazy. I was about to take a nap. I was ready to take a two-hour nap and hen right before it my coach called me, and he was like ‘You need to be on court. You’re next up. We have got to go to the site right now’ ”, the 21-year-old said.
Mmoh’s return to Saudi Arabia surely had a nostalgic feel and took him on a trip down the memory lane to the place where he grew up and took the first steps of his tennis career.
“I haven’t been here in eight years, so this whole trip has been super surreal. The main hotel where we are staying and the main practice court is where I literally trained every single day of my life when I was 13 or 12. So, being back here is like a trip,” Mmoh said.
“I think it is going to make young players want to play tennis more. [With] all the fans that come out here, it is going to motivate them to see the best tennis players in the world play in such a cool arena and such a cool event. I think it is going to inspire the youth to continue to play tennis or start playing tennis,” Mmoh added.
The Diriyah Tennis Cup is the first professional tennis tournament ever to be staged in Saudi Arabia. This history-making event is currently taking place across three days from December 12-14, featuring eight of the finest men’s players on the planet, all playing for the coveted Diriyah Tennis Cup.
As well as providing amazing sport, drama and entertainment the Diriyah Tennis Cup aims to grow the sport of tennis in the Kingdom; inspiring new players, both young and old, to take up the game for the first time to keep healthy and active.