3 min read

Rafael Nadal joins Saudi Tennis Federation in ambassador role


Rafael Nadal, the 22-time grand slam champion, has expressed his belief in the considerable potential for tennis growth in Saudi Arabia after being appointed as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation.

In this new role, the former world No.1 will dedicate time each year to the desert kingdom, focusing on training children and fostering interest in the sport. The Saudi Tennis Federation also revealed plans for a training academy.

Nadal, who withdrew from the ongoing Australian Open due to injury, shared his enthusiasm for being part of Saudi Arabia’s evident growth and progress.

“Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia, you can see growth and progress and I’m excited to be part of that,” he said in a statement.

The Spanish legend, who recently participated in a junior tennis clinic in Riyadh, overcame a hip problem last year before returning to competition at the Brisbane International. However, he anticipates that 2024 will mark his final season on the ATP Tour as injuries continue to hamper his availability.

“I continue to play tennis as I love the game,” Nadal affirmed.

“But beyond playing I want to help the sport grow far and wide across the world and in Saudi there is real potential.”

The men’s ATP Tour announced in August that its Next Gen Finals for under-21 players would be held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia from 2023-27, marking the first official tournament in the Gulf state after previous exhibition events. Saudi Arabia had previously hosted high-profile exhibition matches featuring top players like Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Aryna Sabalenka and Ons Jabeur.

Speculation has arisen about the possibility of the women’s tour relocating its season-ending WTA Finals to Saudi Arabia. However, WTA chairman Steve Simon highlighted “big issues” regarding the country as a host for women’s tour events. The WTA stated in December that discussions were ongoing for the 2024 finals and beyond, with no decision made yet.

Saudi Arabia has invested significantly in various sports, including football, Formula 1, boxing and golf. Critics accuse the country of sportswashing over its human rights record – a claim the kingdom denies, emphasising its commitment to national security through its laws.

Women’s world No.1 Iga Swiatek shared her perspective on the potential move of the women’s tour to Saudi Arabia, acknowledging the complexities and challenges for women in the region. She suggested that federations and governing bodies should bear responsibility for any negative public reaction to tournaments staged in Saudi Arabia.

“If there is some negative backlash, they should take responsibility,” Swiatek commented.
“It’s hard to straightforwardly go one way and say anything … I didn’t even know about Rafa’s decision. Obviously men’s sport is already there in Saudi.

“I don’t know if it’s a good decision or not.”

Image credit: Yann Caradec

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