The last minute decision to not award Arab No.1 tennis player Malek Jaziri a wild card entry into the main draw of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is both shocking and disappointing.
The way the situation was handled, however, is flat out appalling. The Tunisian is currently less than an arm’s length away from cracking the top 100 in the ATP rankings - this week he is No.104 - and a good showing in Dubai would see him become only the fourth Arab player in the history of the ATP to feature in the top 100 and the first Arab to do so in eight years.
So imagine when the Arab world’s greatest prospect in almost a decade is denied a wild card from the region’s biggest tennis event and the player invited instead is world No.867 Marko Djokovic, Novak’s younger brother - who is over 700 ranking spots below Jaziri.
And imagine how the player feels after he was first informed he will get the wild card, before he received a call at 9pm Friday night telling him that is no longer the case and he will be playing his first qualifying match on Saturday morning at 11am.
On Friday afternoon, the press were told from the tournament’s PR
that Jaziri was being awarded a wild card along with Sergei Bubka Jr. (son of the legendary pole vaulter) and UAE No.1 Omar Behrouzian.
All the journalists from the Arabic newspapers quickly took to their laptops to proudly relay the news there were going to be two Arabs in the main draw this year and many of the papers yesterday morning printed that news in the UAE and in Tunisia. They didn’t know about the 9pm phone call and like Jaziri, everyone was surprised.
The men’s tournament is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and while its success has been a source of genuine pride for the Arab region, it’s disgraceful how business and relations take a front seat to what this event should essentially be about - sport.
Giving a player a 14-hour notice about a qualifying match is unacceptable and while Jaziri has no problem having to qualify, and he already won his first-round match comfortably, there are far better ways to handle last-minute “important” wild card requests than this.
It’s quite clear where the tournament’s priorities are at and frankly, it’s plain sad. We wonder why there are no top Arab players in tennis, and then we witness situations like this, where a professional and dedicated Tunisian has managed to shoot his way through the rankings with as little support as one can get; he’s qualified for a Grand Slam and won his first-round match; he’s won a Challenger title and countless Futures and he was two points away from beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Doha last month.
In short, he’s proved himself with every chance he’s got - but still none of that was suffice to warrant him a spot in the main draw in Dubai.
If our very own tournaments are not giving our players the necessary support, then who will?
This week, the Championships could be celebrating two things, its 20th anniversary and the rise of an Arab player into the world’s top 100. Sadly, the latter feat is not being acknowledged by the tournament officials.