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. 

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro

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Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?

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Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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Matteo Berrettini Looks To Draw Inspiration From Jannik Sinner

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner ahead of his comeback to the ATP tour.

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(@TheTennisLetter - Twitter)

Matteo Berrettini is looking to draw inspiration from Jannik Sinner as Berrettini is continuing his recovery from his injury.

The former Wimbledon finalist has had a horrible run of injuries which has seen the Italian fall down the rankings as he is now at 124 in the world.

After suffering a horrible injury at the US Open during his match with Arthur Rinderknech, Berrettini was looking to make his return at the Australian Open as he was set to face Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round.

However just before the match, Berrettini withdrew as he decided to delay his comeback to the tour as he will aim to return to the court as soon as possible.

If Berrettini needed any inspiration then Jannik Sinner’s triumph at the Australian Open could be that much needed spark as the Italian beat Novak Djokovic on his way to capturing a first Grand Slam title.

Speaking an interview Berrettini explained that he is still not 100% and admits he is looking to draw inspiration from Sinner’s form, “I’m better, but I’m not yet 100%,” Berrettini was quoted by Tennis Infinity as saying.

“The goal is to play the whole season, and without these setbacks which are destroying my body and my head. Sinner did a miracle. I will also use this energy for my tennis. I was happy with what Jannik said.

“We have a good relationship, which has strengthened in recent months. We are different but similar. We are pursuing the same dream.”

Berrettini will hope Sinner’s success will have a positive influence on his recovery and quicken his return to the tour as the former world number six aims for a successful return to the tour.

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