Yara Alhogbani hopes to pave the way for Saudi female tennis players

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Last month, tennis fans around the world watched Serena Williams play in what may well be her last major tournament, as she announced her intention to “step away” from the sport.

The 41-year-old Williams will walk away with 23 Grand Slam singles titles, 73 singles titles, 14 Grand Slam doubles titles and four Olympic gold medals.

Yara Faleh Alhogbani, 17, Saudi Arabia’s first professional tennis player, was among the grateful global audience who watched Williams deliver her farewell speech at the US Open.

“Serena is a role model for many girls, not just tennis players,” she said. “Her influence has transcended the sport and I admire her in so many ways. Serena has not only opened doors for other girls, but she’s also committed to staying true to herself and her own goals by road course.

“It’s something I hope to emulate. I don’t have any records to break, I just want to be better than the day before, whether on the pitch or off.

Alhogbani, born in Ohio in the United States, now resides in Riyadh and turned professional at 14 after picking up her first racquet when she was just four years old.

“I grew up in a very large family, with six brothers and an older sister. We were a very active family who loved cycling, swimming, tennis and soccer,” she said.

Alhogbani decided to follow in the footsteps of his brother Ammar and Saud, who both started playing competitive tennis.

Turning professional, however, was difficult for a teenager still in school. Alhogbani must keep up with his studies while training four to six hours a day and traveling frequently for tournaments.

“I attend an online school where the learning schedule is flexible and I try to do schoolwork whenever I get the chance. Whether it’s at the airport on the way to tournaments or in the lobby of a tennis center between practices and matches,” she said.

Alhogbani does most of his training at the Core Social Wellness club in Riyadh, but plans to move to Spain and train at the Rafa Nadal Academy later this year.

“There aren’t a lot of women’s competitions here for me, so I’m training with the men’s national team to keep developing and getting stronger. I will soon be in Spain with the sole purpose of growing as a player and having a better competition.

“I don’t really play local tournaments because there isn’t a high level of competition for me,” she said. “They recently (started) women’s tournaments, so the sport is quite new to everyone, which means they are mostly amateurs.”

Due to the lack of female competitors in the region, Alhogbani travels to play in the ITF, or International Tennis Federation, tournaments to rack up ranking points which she hopes will lead to her ultimate goal of becoming a female player. of the Women’s Tennis Association.

“My immediate goal is to earn my first WTA points and see where I go from there,” she said. “I graduated from high school this year, so I will be able to travel and compete on tour more competitively once I graduate.”

Although tennis is a relatively new sport in the Kingdom for female athletes and being able to compete in local tournaments has been a challenge for Alhogbani, she will compete in the first Saudi Games of 2022 this month.

The games will feature more than 6,000 athletes from more than 200 national clubs, taking part in 45 individual and team competitions, including five para-sport competitions.

“I’m very proud of my achievements against Saudi Arabia,” Alhogbani said. “I want to help open as many doors as possible for girls like me. My goal is to help as many people as possible to allow them greater access to the sport.

“I don’t think I’m looking to make my own mark,” she added. “I think if it comes naturally that’s great, but I love sports and I want to help spread the love of sports in my home country. If I can make big strides on the international stage, then it would be a dream come true.

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