MUMBAI (Reuters) - Algerian Ines Ibbou was hailed as a hero by Venus Williams while her country's president pledged full support after the low-ranked tennis player posted an emotional video to take on world No. 3 Dominic Thiem for his opposition to a player relief fund.
Thiem rejected the notion that top tennis players should chip in to help lower-ranked competitors who are struggling financially due to the pause in tournaments due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In the video, which runs over nine minutes and was posted on Ibbou's Instagram page, the world number 620 starts with "Dear Dominic" and goes on to talk about the difficulties she has had to endure and the sacrifices she needed to make in her career.
The 21-year-old pleads with Thiem to understand the stark difference in the Austrian's "magical world" and how she had to pursue tennis in the North African country, which she said lacked even basic infrastructure for the sport.
"I cherish the day when I'll be able to afford a gift for my parents. I'm dreaming about this day," said Ibbou, who started playing at the age of six but has only managed to make $27,825 in tournament earnings so far.
"I'm a lonely lady, travelling the world generally in three-legged trips, always looking for the cheapest tickets."
World number one Novak Djokovic has urged fellow professionals to contribute to a fund set up by the sport's governing bodies to help players affected by a shutdown which began in March and will continue at least until mid-July.
Austrian Thiem said he felt there were sections of society that needed more urgent help than his fellow competitors during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
"Do you alternate clay and hard from a week to another like I do," Ibbou questioned Thiem. "Do you finish your tournaments with holes in shoes like I do?"
"Dear Dominic, unlike you, many share my reality.
"Just a reminder, it's not because of your money that we survived until now. And nobody requested to you anything. The initiative went from generous players who showed instant compassion with a classy touch."
The governing bodies recently raised over $6 million to help lower-level players affected by the shutdown.
Ibbou said the crisis showed "who people truly are" and helping the needy players was only to help the game survive.
"We did not ask anything from you. Except a bit of respect to our sacrifice," she said before signing off. "Players like you make me hold on to my dreams. Please, don't ruin it."
Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam singles winner, commented on the post: "You're my hero."
Ibbou replied: "You've always been mine too, and now you're even more to me. Thank you so much."
Australian Kyrgios, who had criticised Thiem for his comments, said "Respect!" before adding, "Keep doing you, I'm always willing to support."
As Ibbou's post gained popularity and was widely shared on social media, it caught the eye of Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
"Algeria can't miss a sporting talent like Ines Ibbou in a young age and a flower of giving, in a specialty that is rarely born in it," Tebboune said in a message for Ibbou on his official Facebook page.
"Soon, the ministry of youth and sports will take care of your work. You have my full support and I wish you success, God willing."
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Ken Ferris)
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