In the early stages of his budding career, Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh is already etching his name in history.
The 20-year-old, who is at a career-high No. 187 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, became the first Jordanian to win a main-draw ATP Tour match in April and has since continued his rapid rise. Shelbayh will have another opportunity to perform on a big stage as a wild card at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Shelbayh is doing it all with the pride of Jordan behind him.
“It makes me happy to represent my country and the Arab world,” Shelbayh told ATPTour.com. “There is some pressure but you feel like it’s good pressure to have on your shoulders when you’re representing your country and the region you come from.”
Hailing from Amann, the capital of Jordan, Shelbayh has grown to understand and appreciate the significance of leading the way for his nation.
“When I started playing junior tournaments at an advanced level, playing the junior Grand Slams and even before that, I was like, ‘Okay, people are starting to talk about this,’’ Shelbayh said. “I started realising how big it is and how important it is to represent your country and I try to represent it in the best way possible. At that time, I was 16 when I was like, ‘I’m actually representing more than just myself and my family.’”
Since a young age, Shelbayh has been surrounded by some of the sports superstars. Toni Nadal flew to Jordan when Shelbayh was 13 years old to recruit him to train at the Rafa Nadal Academy, where the #NextGenATP star would move to a year later and graduate from in 2021.
Shelbayh idolised the 22-time major champion Nadal as a kid and despite being naturally right handed, watching Rafa swayed the Jordanian to play tennis left handed.
“My first memory of watching tennis was Roger [Federer]. I used to play with the right and one-hand backhand as well because of Roger,” Shelbayh said. “I didn’t know who Rafa was. I saw one guy playing Roger because I only knew Roger back then. Then I saw one guy playing with the left hand [Nadal] and later that day I started to play with the left hand.”
A memorable moment for Shelbayh came in October, when he won his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title in Charleston, South Carolina to become the youngest player from an Arab country to win a title at that level. Another Arab player, WTA star Ons Jabeur, has provided more inspiration to Shelbayh.
“What Ons has been doing lately is incredible and it motivates me. Knowing where she comes from and especially on the WTA side, it’s something that’s inspiring for all of the Arab region,” Shelbayh said.
“I’ve practised with her when I was very young. It was incredible. She has always been so nice, very humble. She’s still as great as before even though she’s achieved much more throughout the past two, three years. When I was able to see her [this year] she was telling me that she has been checking my results and she’s happy with what I’ve been doing.”
Shelbayh is looking forward to an opportunity of a lifetime next week at the Next Gen ATP Finals, where he will be one of eight players to compete in the 21-and-under event. He hopes the tournament, which has seen previous champions such as Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner and Stefanos Tsitsipas, can also accelerate the growth of tennis in the Middle East.
“I think it’s very exciting to have it in a different place, bringing all the eyes and attention to this part of the world. It will also help this region have a bigger impact in the tennis world and produce more talents hopefully throughout the region,” Shelbayh said. “It plays a big part not just having any tournament, but the Next Gen because it’s for young players so I think the younger generations will start getting into this sport much more and be motivated.
“Me being Jordianan is a big part of it and it gives me the inspiration and motivation to represent my country in such a big event. I wish to see many more young players from that region come out and produce more talent. I think we will be able to do that once there’s more attention on the sport in that region.”