Rafael Nadal Appointed Ambassador For Saudi Tennis - UBITENNIS
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Rafael Nadal Appointed Ambassador For Saudi Tennis

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The Saudi Tennis Federation (STF) has announced that Rafael Nadal will help promote tennis in the country after being officially appointed as an ambassador.

The former world No.1 is set to also open an academy in Ridyah in what will be a significant milestone for the Middle Eastern Nation and its aim to become a more prominent force in the sport. Last year Saudi Arabia held their first ATP Tournament, the Next Gen Finals. Then during the off-season, they also held a duo of exhibition matches featuring Novak Djokovic against Carlos Alcaraz and Ons Jabeur taking on Aryna Sabalenka.

In a press release issued by the STF, the agreement came about after the 22-time Grand Slam champion made a ‘surprise visit’ to a junior tennis clinic in Riyadh. Under the agreement, each year Nadal will spend time in the country to help ‘nurture and plan the development of boys and girls in the sport.’ To do this a new Rafa Nadal Academy will be built.

“Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia, you can see growth and progress and I’m excited to be part of that.” Said Nadal.
“I continue to play tennis as I love the game. But beyond playing I want to help the sport grow far and wide across the world and in Saudi there is real potential. The kids here today are looking to the future and have a real passion for all sports.’
“If I can help them pick up a racquet or simply get fit and enjoy the benefits of healthy living, then I’ll be happy to have made a difference.”

Nadal, who returned to competitive tennis earlier this month following a hip injury, will likely be scrutinised by some for his decision to promote tennis in a country which has been accused of sportswashing. Known better as the use of sports events to improve a country’s reputation that has been tarnished by wrongdoing. Saudi Arabia has been criticised over their human rights record, including the criminalisation of homosexuality and women’s rights. However, their counterargument is that measures have been taken in recent years to improve the treatment of minorities in the country.

“Rafa embodies all the values we hold dear in a true champion on and off the court. He’s simply the ideal role model for our young boys and girls to look up to. It’s clear Rafa lives the best version of himself every single day. His dedication to training, his commitment to every shot and the way he fights for every point are values we hope to instil in our own future stars. Not just to develop them as players but as people,” STF President Arij Almutabagani commented.
“Rafa transcends the sport of tennis and continues to inspire generations around the world. I’ve no doubt he will have the same impact on Saudi. We feel blessed to call him our ambassador and our young players can’t wait to work with him!”

Coinciding with the announcement, the STF has interestingly highlighted their desire to become a tennis powerhouse. Saying their hosting of the Next Gen Finals is ‘likely to be the first of many professional tournaments held in the country.’ Saudi Arabia says they have 177 tennis clubs in their country which is a 146% increase compared to 2019.

It is not the first time an athlete has been selected to promote their sport in Saudi Arabia. Similar have already occurred in football with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Nadal will likely earn millions from his ambassador role but the details of his contract have not been made public. There is also no mention if his new role is a fixed-term position or not.

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Carlos Alcaraz In Doubt For Madrid Open Title Defence

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Carlos Alcaraz admits that he is not certain if he will be ready in time to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.

The 20-year-old is yet to play a clay tournament in Europe due to a forearm injury which ruled him out of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He hurt his right arm whilst training shortly before the Monte Carlo event began. 

It is the latest in a series of injury issues that has affected Alcaraz throughout his young career. Since the start of 2023, he has also been derailed by issues with his abdominal, hamstring, post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscular discomfort in his spine. 

“My feeling isn’t right, but it is what it is. Now I’m fully focused on recovery and I have a little more time,” Alcaraz told reporters in Barcelona on Monday.
“My goal is to try and go to the Madrid Open, but at the moment nothing is certain. I was given specific recovery times and I’ve respected them, but I haven’t felt good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
“I can’t say I’ll be 100% in Madrid, but that’s my intention. We’ll train and do everything we can so that the feelings improve so I can play a match … It’s also a very special tournament for me.”

Alcaraz has won the past two editions of the Madrid Open, which is classed as a Masters 1000 event. In 2022 he defeated Alexander Zverev in the final and then 12 months later he beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the title match.

The setback comes after what has been a steady start to the year for Alcaraz who has reached the quarter-finals or better in four out of five tournaments played. He successfully defended his title in Indian Wells and then reached the semi-finals in Miami. 

Should he not play in Madrid, it is likely that the Spaniard will lose his No.2 spot to Jannik Sinner who is just over 100 points behind him in the standings. He will still have the chance to play a clay-court event before the French Open with Rome taking place early next month. 

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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