Tennis: Saudi Arabia scoops up WTA Finals tennis

AFP , Thursday 4 Apr 2024

Saudi Arabia will host the WTA Finals for the next three editions, the Women's Tennis Association said on Thursday.

File Photo: Swiatek of Poland in action against Aryna Sabalenka, in the second Semi-Final match on Day 7 during the of the GNP Seguros WTA Finals Cancun 2023 part of the Hologic WTA Tour, on Day 7 , on November 4, 2023, in Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico. AFP


In just the latest high-profile Saudi sporting acquisition, the capital Riyadh will first hold the season finale featuring eight singles players and doubles teams from November 2-9.

"Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, will host the next three editions of the WTA Finals from 2024-2026," the WTA posted on X, formerly Twitter, on its official account.

The widely anticipated deal comes just weeks after Saudi's Public Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth vehicle, announced a "strategic partnership" with the Association of Tennis Professionals, which runs men's tennis.

Growing links

The season-ending tournament joins a list of major sports events hosted by the world's biggest oil exporter as it tries to diversify its economy.

Formula One, heavyweight boxing, horse racing and some of football's biggest stars now appear regularly in the desert nation, which will be rubber-stamped as hosts of the 2034 World Cup later this year.

Saudi's PIF is also responsible for the LIV Tour, which has shaken up the world of golf, and took a majority stake in English football club Newcastle United in 2021.

"The WTA Finals has the power to inspire far beyond the sport, especially for our young girls and women," Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal said in comments sent to AFP.

"This should come as no surprise, because the transformation we've often spoken about is driven by our desire to encourage the growth of both men's and women's sport with equal access and equal opportunities."

At the start of its transformation, from 2018 Saudi Arabia, which hosts Islam's two holiest sites, allowed women to drive, reopened cinemas and started issuing visas to non-Muslim tourists.

Saudi has quickly established links with tennis. In February, the PIF announced its multi-year tie-up with the ATP, in which it becomes the naming partner of the men's rankings.

PIF 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.

Last year, the Next Gen ATP Finals became the first ATP event in Saudi, which also hosted exhibition matches featuring Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Aryna Sabalenka and Jabeur.

And in January Rafael Nadal, winner of 22 singles Grand Slams on the men's side, was named ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online

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