A video response by Algerian tennis player Ines Ibbou to Dominic Thiem’s refusal to contribute to the Player Relief fund has gone viral – even gaining the endorsement of her country’s president.
Ibbou, 21, recorded an “open letter” that addressed Belgian world number three Thiem’s claims in an Austrian newspaper that players on the ITF tour “don’t commit to the sport 100%” and are “quite unprofessional”.
He said he would not contribute to a fund initiated by world number one Novak Djokovic to help players struggling while coronavirus puts the sporting calendar on hold.
Ibbou’s video, which asked “what is it like to be Dominic Thiem?” and said that “this unexpected crisis is revealing who people truly are”, was shared by nine-time women’s Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and men’s world number 40 Nick Kyrgios on Instagram, as well as Algerian and former Watford footballer Adlene Guedioura.
Algeria’s new president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, tweeted his support, writing: “Algeria cannot lose a sporting talent like Ines Ibbou. She is very young, and flowering in a specialty that rarely gives birth to Algerians who excel in it. All my support and wishes for success in you, God willing.”
What did Ibbou say?
“Nobody asked you for anything,” is Ibbou’s message.
With coronavirus causing the cancellation of tennis events around the world, Djokovic helped create a fund to help the professionals ranked outside the top elite who have little income.
With donations of players from the top 100, it is already worth at least $6m (£4.8m).
Thiem, runner-up to Djokovic at this year’s Australian Open, told Austrian newspaper Krone: “I’ve seen players on the ITF Tour who don’t commit to the sport 100%. Many of them are quite unprofessional. I don’t see why I should give them money.”
In response, world number 620 Ibbou described her struggles as a low-ranked player despite the challenges she has faced since starting to play at the age of six.
“In a country like mine, it is not easy for a player like me to be an athlete,” she said.
“There is not even a single indoor court in the country. If it rains for a week we practise our backhands in the gym.”
Ibbou said she was considered “one of the best players in the world at the age of 14”, when the media called her “The Miracle of Algeria”.
However, her career has been hampered by a lack of tournaments, international coaches and sponsors in Algeria.
“Sponsors, you said? They don’t even exist in Algeria,” she added.
“If I was part of your magical world back then, I would probably have drawn the attention of many sponsors.”
Ibbou asked: “What is it like to have a coach who assists you on tour? A personal trainer? A physiotherapist? A mental coach? A dedicated staff?
“The court should decide the outcome of my career, not my finances. This is totally unfair.
“It’s not because of your money that we survive until now and nobody asked you for anything.”
Other players have also not contributed to the fund.
Italian Matteo Berrettini, the world number eight, said: “We wrote to Novak. It’s not mandatory. I prefer to help more complex situations, such as a hospital, a family in need, rather than a tennis player.”