Dominic Thiem, who said recently that he was unhappy about supporting lower ranked players financially during the coronavirus pandemic because they ‘don’t put the sport above everything else’, has come under fire from a 21-year old Algerian player named Ines Ibbou, ranked No 620 on the WTA ranking list.
I'm a lonely lady, travelling the world. Always looking for the cheapest tickets. Hopefully you’ll change your mind about me and many of us sharing the same situation after watching this video. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame you for what you are or this current situation because after all, it’s mainly up to national and international federations to look after tennis family and sort out difficulties, for the sake of this sport. Helping players is helping the game to survive. Ines Ibbou
“Dear Dominic,” Ibbou said in an emotional 9-minute video posted on social media. “What would have been my career if I was in your shoes?
“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 had grown up in a ‘magical world’ with both his parents being tennis coaches.
“I grew up in a very modest family with parents who had nothing to do with tennis,” Ibbou said, adding that she loved her parents and regretted that her endless travelling to tournaments meant she saw them so little.
“We don’t choose where we are born. I cherish the day when I’ll be able to afford a gift for my parents.”
Ibbou made $27,825 (25,754 euros) on the WTA Tour and had earned $3,135 this season before play was halted in March.
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.”
Her stance has gone viral and drawn support from such players as Venus Williams and Nick Kyrgios as well as from her country’s government.
Ibbou wrote a letter alongside her video to Thiem on Instagram, saying: “Your last words were hurtful to say the least, the reason why i decided to write you this open letter.
“Hopefully you’ll change your mind about me and many of us sharing the same situation after watching this video.
“Don’t get me wrong, i don’t blame you for what you are or this current situation because after all, it’s mainly up to national and international federations to look after tennis family and sort out difficulties, for the sake of this sport.
“But this answer is a way to bring light to our situation and maybe also protecting our integrity… Our voice deserve to be heard also… Thanks for those who helped me put my anger into words, and words into images.”
In April, Thiem, the World No 3, said he was not happy with the 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 video, Ibbou 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 $6 million had already been added to the cause.
“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 yet drawn a response from Thiem, it has brought a reaction from other players.
“You’re my hero,” Venus Williams reacted under Ibbou’s Instagram post, while 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: “Algeria cannot lose a sporting talent like Ines Ibbou.”
Then, 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’.