Ines Ibbou, a young Algerian tennis player who hit back at Dominic Thiem for saying that he did not want to give money to low-ranked players, has drawn support from Venus Williams, as well as her nation’s government.
“Dear Dominic, what would have been my career if I was in your shoes?” Ibbou, who is 620th in the WTA singles rankings, said in an emotional nine-minute video posted on social media.
Thiem, an Austrian ranked third in the ATP singles rankings, last month said that he was not happy with a plan supported by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for top players to help those lower down the rankings who had lost their tournament income because of the shutdown of tennis due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“None of them are going to starve,” Thiem told an Austrian newspaper, adding that “many, 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,” he said. “I would rather give money to people or organizations that really need it.”
In her response, 21-year-old Ibbou said that life was tough for an African tennis player.
“You know that in a country like mine it’s not easy for a woman to be a high-level athlete,” Ibbou said.
She said that Thiem grew up in a “magical world,” and while both his parents were tennis coaches, “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,” she said, adding that she loved her parents and regretted that her endless traveling to tournaments meant that she saw them so little.
“I cherish the day when I’ll be able to afford a gift for my parents,” said Ibbou, who has made US$27,825 on the WTA Tour and had earned US$3,135 this season before play was halted.
She said that, unlike Thiem, she could not afford a coach or entourage, and always had to worry about her budget and, as an Algerian, a visa.
“I’m a lonely lady, traveling the world,” she said. “Always looking for the cheapest tickets.”
She listed all the obstacles that she faced as a young player in Algeria: poor facilities, no international coaches, no professional tournaments, no guidance on how to plan a professional career and “not a penny” of state aid.
“Sponsors, you say?” she said. “They don’t even exist in Algeria.”
Last week, the WTA, ATP, ITF and the four Grand Slam tournaments, said that they had set up a “Player Relief Programme” to help the players hardest hit by the pandemic, adding that they had contributed more than US$6 million.
“Helping players is helping the game to survive,” said Ibbou, directly addressing Thiem. “We do not ask anything of you except a bit of respect.”
While the video had not drawn a response from Thiem, it brought a reaction from other players.
“You’re my hero,” Venus Williams wrote under Ibbou’s Instagram post.
Nick Kyrgios, who had already criticized Thiem, added: “Respect” and some emoticons, and promised his support when Ibbou thanked him.
The implicit criticism of her own nation also drew a response from the Algerian government.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Sunday wrote on Twitter that “Algeria cannot lose a sporting talent like Ines Ibbou.”
Algerian Minister of Youth and Sports Sid Ali Khaldi on Monday wrote on Facebook that he had called a Ibbou, who is in Tunisia, and “assured her of the state’s readiness to support her.”
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