Rafael Nadal was named ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation on Monday, as the Gulf kingdom aims to host more professional tournaments as part of a broader sports push.
“Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia, you can see growth and progress and I’m excited to be part of that,” the 37-year-old Spaniard, winner of 22 Grand Slams, said in a federation press release.
“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.”
Nadal was due to feature in the ongoing Australian Open having been out of the game since injuring his hip at the 2023 edition.
After winning his opening two matches at the warm-up event in Brisbane, however, to tore a muscle and was forced to miss the first Grand Slam of the year.
Nadal had previously said there was a “high percentage” that 2024 would be his farewell to the tour.
The announcement comes after a busy 2023 for tennis in Saudi Arabia, which hosted its first ATP Tour event – the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah – and closed out the year with exhibition matches pitting Novak Djokovic against Carlos Alcaraz and Aryna Sabalenka against Ons Jabeur.
Nadal recently visited a junior tennis clinic in Riyadh, and his new role will involve “dedicated time in the kingdom each year” to grow the sport as well as the development of a new Rafa Nadal Academy, the Saudi federation said on Monday.
Sport is a major component of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform agenda, which aims to transform Saudi Arabia into a tourism and business hub while transitioning the world’s biggest crude oil exporter away from fossil fuels.
Saudi Arabia has lured football stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar to play in the Saudi Pro League, hosted heavyweight bouts and funded the upstart LIV Golf tour to take on the PGA Tour.
The kingdom has also been named host of the 2034 World Cup.
But Saudi Arabia has been accused by its critics of “sportswashing” by using sport to improve its international reputation after widespread criticism for its human rights and environmental record
The five-year deal to bring the Next Gen ATP Finals to Jeddah “signals the country’s intent to make tennis a major part of its international calendar and is the first of many likely professional tennis tournaments to be held in the country,” the Saudi federation said.
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