ATP Next Gen Finals Is Just The Start For Saudi Arabia's Venture Into Tennis - UBITENNIS
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ATP Next Gen Finals Is Just The Start For Saudi Arabia’s Venture Into Tennis

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King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah

Thursday’s announcement of the new venue for the ATP Next Gen Finals comes as no surprise to those familiar with the world of tennis. 

The Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah has officially signed a contract with the ATP Tour to host the event for five years starting in 2023. It will take place over five days at the King Abdullah Sports City on indoor hard courts from 28 November-2 December. Featuring the eight highest-ranked players under the age of 21, on offer is a record $2M in prize money which is a $600,000 increase on the 2022 event when it was held in Turin.

Ubitennis revealed details about Jeddah hosting the event last month and all of those details reported have been confirmed today. The date for the competition follows directly after the Davis Cup Finals but from 2024 it will be held later in December. This year’s date had to be brought forward because of the FIFA Club World Cup tournament which will be hosted at the same venue. 

Ubitennis understands that Carlos Alcaraz had agreed to play in this year’s Next Gen Finals if it had taken place later in December which was the original plan. The idea is that during what is traditionally the off-season players would be eager to play competitive tennis which they already do via exhibitions. Alcaraz said earlier this year that he expects to play in Saudi Arabia. 

This is likely to only be the start of what could become a very complex relationship between tennis and Saudi Arabia. A county who have invested millions in various sports such as football and golf via its Public Investment Fund (PIF). They have been accused of using sport to improve their reputation which has been marred by wrongdoing. Something that is better known as sportswashing. 

“They are investing colossal amounts of money in entertainment and sporting events to launder its image and portray itself as a “reformist” and “progressive” state. Major sporting events in Saudi Arabia should be seen in this context- as more potential sportswashing,” Amnesty International’s regional campaigner Reina Wehbi told Ubitennis earlier this year.
“These expensive public relations schemes help Saudi Arabia turn the focus away from its appalling human rights record and avoid scrutiny for its continuous human rights violations.’
“Sporting bodies have a responsibility to undertake due diligence to identify and mitigate the human rights impact directly linked to their events.”

Responding to the criticism, Saudi officials have dismissed such allegations and insist they have taken action to improve the rights of their people in recent times. Government Programme Saudi Vision 2030 is focused on making the country more diversified both socially and economically. 

However, the idea that there will be a dramatic cultural change in the Middle Eastern nation is something extremely unlikely to happen. For example, Saudi Arabia draws most of its legal framework from Sharia law which forbids homosexuality. In February their official tourism website stated for the first time that LGBT visitors are welcomed as long as they are not required to disclose their details. Basically, as long as a gay person doesn’t flaunt their homosexuality there will be no issue. A stance that was also reiterated to Ubitennis by the Saudi Tennis Federation. 

“It’s not ideal and I hope the country is going to evolve in the coming years,” openly gay player Greet Minnen told Ubitennis during Wimbledon“The WTA is going to make sure they respect us as players. Not put heterosexual players in front of LGBT players in scheduling or something.”
“It’s not ideal and I hope the country is going to evolve in the coming years.”

It is very unlikely that players such as Minnen or Daria Kasatkina will face any difficulty whilst potentially playing in Saudi Arabia considering how determined the country is to prove its status as an international sporting powerhouse. Something that will undoubtedly be a kick in the stomach for those who are LGBT and living in the country. 

The scrutiny of topics such as human rights in the country will be questions the governing bodies of tennis will face over the coming months. Ubitennis understands that the Next Gen is unlikely to be the only event hosted in the country in the near future. One premier WTA tournament is currently being negotiated with a deal yet to be formalized and there has been previous interest in rights to an ATP event separate from the Next Gen Finals. 

“It is always well received when you have different people come into tennis. I think it’s great if they want to come. This is helping many people in low or big situations. I hope they can come,” Diego Schwartzman previously commented.
“I think if we have new people and new tournaments. It’s a different era.” 

The bottom line is that Saudi investment in tennis is here to stay and it is something that can only be accepted. This doesn’t mean that those within the tennis community shouldn’t call out the authorities over serious issues if they wish to. Those who do should be commended. During the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar came under heavy criticism for its anti-homosexuality laws even though the country has held tennis events for more than 20 years without receiving such scrutiny

“I’m a huge believer in engagement,” WTA co-founder Billie Jean King said in June. “I don’t really think you can change unless you engage. That’s just me personally, I’m not speaking for anyone else here. I’m a big believer in engaging, so I don’t know what that really means in the end, but just meeting people.”

The ATP and WTA will say they are doing what King said. In reality, they are reluctant to turn their back on Saudi Arabia’s investment which will be worth millions. 

ATP

Jack Draper Wins In Stuttgart, Potentially Faces Andy Murray in Round Two

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Jack Draper – ATP Monaco di Baviera 2024 (foto via Twitter @atptour)

Britain’s Jack Draper tight first round win headlined the opening day’s results at the Boss Open 2024 in Stuttgart – and possibly faces a second-round match with Andy Murray who takes on Marcos Giron tomorrow.

Less than 24 hours from the last ball being hit at Roland Garros, the ATP Tour had already switched surfaces onto the grass, and 22-year-old Draper was well tested but ultimately came through in two tie-breakers over Sebastian Ofner.

The sixth seed’s 7-6, 7-6 win contained just one break of serve each, both coming in the second set, as serve dominated proceedings on the faster grass courts in Germany.

While the Austrian won 75% on his first serve, Draper won a whopping 89% behind his first delivery as well as hitting eight aces. These kind of service stats will surely take him far during the grass court season.

“I thought it was a really good match,” Eurosport quoted Draper saying after his match. 
“Both of us played really clean tennis, executing really well.
“When it came down to it, I’m glad I competed really well and got over the line – it’s good to be back on the grass as well.”

There were also wins for Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann who won 6-3, 6-3 over wildcard Henri Squire, while compatriot Dominik Koepfer won in three sets over China’s Zhizhen Zhang 4-6, 7-6, 7-6. 

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Carlos Alcaraz Still Owns A Magical Racket

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The legend of Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket lives on.

The 21-year-old Spaniard executed one magical shot after another with his racket and legs  Sunday afternoon in the French Open final. That bit of magic spelled defeat for Germany’s Alexander Zverev.

This was a final to remember, one of the great matches of all the Grand Slams. It just wasn’t in the cards for the 26-year-old Zverev to finally win a Grand Slam title.

HE HAD IT, THEN HE DIDN’T

Both players seemed to play a game of “he had it and then he didn’t.”

Alcaraz appeared to have everything under control in the first set, but Zverev rushed through the second set and then made a comeback from 5-2 down in the third set to win five straight games.

Zverev had everything going for him when he started the fourth set with a two-set advantage. It appeared that all the 6-6 Zverev had to do was to continue playing his masterful game of big serves and mighty ground strokes.

But Zverev couldn’t get started in the fourth set until he was down 4-0. So much for a smooth and easy ride to a Grand Slam title. By then, the magic of Alcaraz was heating up.

MAGIC OF ALCARAZ HEATING UP

Zverev still had his chances, even when he fell behind 2-1 in the fifth set. He had to feel pretty good about his chances when he took a triple break point lead against Alcaraz’s serve and appeared ready to even the set at 2-2. Even after Carlos came up with a winner to bring the  game score to double break point.

Zverev still was ready to even the entire match.

That’s when everything seemed to go haywire for the German, while all the while, Alcaraz was able to repeatedly come up with his magical shots as the Spaniard made critical shots that looked almost impossible to make.

ALCARAZ HEADED FOR GREATNESS

Everything for Zverev was lost in the magical racket of Alcaraz.

What was then initially called a game-ending Alcaraz double fault and a 2-2 deadlock quicky reversed itself and Alcaraz stayed alive by winning the next three points while taking a 3-1 advantage.

Zverev did get back to a 3-2 deficit and had a break point in the sixth game, but that was it for the hopes of Zverev. The last two games went rather easily in favor of Alcaraz to wrap up a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 victory for Alcaraz.

That moved the Spaniard to a higher level of success on the ATP Tour. He became the youngest man to win Grand Slam titles on all of the different surfaces, clay, grass and hard courts.

Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket appear to be headed for greatness.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Tsitsipas Brothers Hit With Trio Of Fines At French Open

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Stefanos Tsitsipas and his brother Petros have been fined more than 20,000 euros for multiple violations of the coaching rules at this year’s French Open. 

The brothers received a financial penalty during three different matches that they played in. Two of those were in the second and third rounds of the men’s doubles tournament. Furthermore, Stefanos was also penalised during his singles quarter-final match against Carlos Alcaraz, which he lost in straight sets. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, all three of those fines were issued as a result of coaching rules being broken.

Ironically, coaching is allowed during matches at the French Open but certain rules must be followed. ‘Verbal’ coaching can only be issued from the coaches and their team if they are sitting in the designated player’s box. Instructions must be limited to a few words and can only be given if the player is in the same half of the court as their coach. Although non-verbal coaching is allowed regardless of what side the player is on. Finally, players can’t start a conversation with their coach unless it is during a medical break, a bathroom break or when their opponent is changing clothes.

However, the Tsitsipas brothers have been found in violation of these rules, which is likely due to their animated father in the stands who is also their coach. Apostolos Tsitsipas has been given coaching violations in the past at other events, including the 2022 Australian Open. 

The value of the fines are €4,600 and €9,200 for the Tsitsipas brothers in the doubles, as well as an additional €7,400 just for Stefanos in the singles. In total, the value of their fines is €21,200. However, the penalty is unlikely to have an impact on the duo whose combined earnings for playing in this year’s French Open amount to roughly €495,000. 

So far in the tournament, the highest single fine to be issued this year was against Terence Atmane who hit a ball out of frustration that struck a fan in the stands. Atmane, who later apologised for his actions, managed to avoid getting disqualified from the match. Instead, he was fined €23,000. 

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