Tennis: Young Algerian player wins support with emotional video plea to Dominic Thiem over virus fund

Austrian tennis player Dominic Thiem performs during a training session on a clay court in Vienna on April 28, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ALGIERS (AFP) - Ines Ibbou, a young Algerian tennis player who hit back at Dominic Thiem for saying he did not want to give money to lowly-ranked players, has drawn support from Venus Williams as well her country's government.

"Dear Dominic," Ibbou, who is 620th in the WTA singles rankings, said in an emotional nine-minute video posted on social media, "what would have been my career if I was in your shoes?"

In April, Thiem, an Austrian ranked third in the men's game, said 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 coronavirus shutdown of tennis.

"None of them are going to starve," Thiem told an Austrian newspaper, explaining 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 went on. "I would rather give money to people or organisations that really need it."

In her response, the 21-year-old Ibbou said 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."

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 travelling to tournaments meant 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 (S$39,500) 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, travelling the world," she said. "Always looking for the cheapest tickets."

She listed all the obstacles 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 and ATP, along with the ITF and the four Grand Slam tournaments, said they had set up a "Player Relief Programme" to help the players hardest hit by the coronavirus, 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 letter has not drawn a response from Thiem yet, it has brought a reaction from other players.

"You're my hero," Venus Williams reacted under Ibbou's Instagram post. Nick Kyrgios, who had already criticised Thiem, added "Respect" and some emoticons and promised his support when Ibbou thanked him.

The implicit criticism of her own country also drew a response from the Algerian government.

On Sunday, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tweeted that "Algeria cannot lose a sporting talent like Ines Ibbou".

On Monday, Sports Minister Sid Ali Khaldi posted on Facebook that he had called Ibbou, who is in Tunisia, and "assured her of the state's readiness to support her".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.