ATP's New Partnership With Saudi Arabia's PIF Gets Mixed Response From Murray, Medvedev - UBITENNIS
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ATP’s New Partnership With Saudi Arabia’s PIF Gets Mixed Response From Murray, Medvedev

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Massimo Calvelli (ATP) and Kevin Foster, Head of Corporate Affairs, PIF (source - X @PIF_en)

The formation of a new partnership between the governing body of men’s tennis and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has been met with optimism and caution from two former No.1 players. 

On Wednesday the ATP announced a multi-year deal with the PIF which includes the naming rights for their ranking system. Under the agreement, the fund will also partner with ATP Tour events in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Beijing and the ATP Finals, in addition to the Next Gen ATP Finals, hosted in Jeddah until 2027. It is understood that they will take over the courtside branding. No financial details have been publically announced but The Telegraph newspaper estimates it to be a ‘low seven-figure’ amount. 

In a press release, the PIF is set to also ‘actively contribute to ATP’s OneVision Strategic Plan.’ A plan that was first set out in 2020 to help revolutionize the sport and increase its appeal to fans around the world. 

“Our strategic partnership with PIF marks a major moment for tennis. It’s a shared commitment to propel the future of the sport. With PIF’s dedication to the next generation – fostering innovation and creating opportunities for all – the stage is set for a transformative new period of progress.” ATP CEO Massimo Calvelli commented on the new deal. 

The Saudi PIF was created in 1971 so that the country could invest in numerous activities. As of July 2023, its value was estimated to be more than £500bn. In recent years they have invested heavily in sports with tennis being their latest target. However, critics accuse Saudi Arabia of using these investments to improve its image which has been tarnished by concerns over human rights violations. A process which is known better as sportswashing. 

Daniil Medvedev has previously played an event in the Middle Eastern nation and has signed on to play at their next multi-million dollar tennis exhibition, the King Six Slam, which will take place in October. 

“I think if we can make tennis bigger as a sport, more interesting for people, have more coverage, just in general more people will know tennis, who tennis players are,” Medvedev said following his second round win at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Wednesday. 
“I think it’s going to be good.”

However, Andy Murray is more cautious about the development. Also speaking to reporters in Dubai, the three-time Grand Slam winner says there is yet to be any clarity given on how the development will impact lower-level players and tournaments on the Tour. 

 “I don’t know exactly what it means by sponsoring the events. I don’t know what that will look like,” said Murray.
“One of my concerns is obviously actually more about the investment in lower levels of the game and the grassroots of the sport. I think that’s extremely important.”

Mohamed AlSayyad, who is Head of the Corporate Brand at PIF, says the partnership will incorporate their four sponsorship pillars which are inclusivity, sustainability, youth and technology. The inclusivity pillar is of particular interest. Whilst Saudi Arabia has hit back at those who have criticised their women’s rights record, they have stayed largely silent when concerns about the LGBT community have been raised. Same-sex relationships are not codified under Saudi law. However, they draw their legal framework from Sharia (Islamic law) which forbids homosexuality.

“As PIF expands its portfolio of innovative sponsorships, our commitment to ‘Invested in Better’ remains unwavering. Through our collaboration with ATP, PIF will be a catalyst for the growth of the global tennis landscape, developing talent, fostering inclusivity and driving sustainable innovation. This strategic partnership aligns with our broader vision to enhance quality of life and drive transformation in sport both within Saudi and across the world.” Said AlSayyad

Saudi Arabia could also be entering into the women’s tennis market soon with it being considered as a possible hold for the WTA Finals. However, it is unclear when a final decision will be made. 

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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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