LONDON: The season-ending Next Gen Finals for men’s Under-21 tennis players will be held in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah from 2023 to 2027 as the ATP makes its first competitive foray into the Gulf state, the men’s governing body said today.
The award of the tournament marks the latest move in world sport by Saudi Arabia which has pumped massive amounts of money into golf and football among others in recent years, drawing some scrutiny in the process.
The hard court tournament, which has been played in Milan since it began in 2017, will also have its prize money increased to a record US$2 million, up from US$1.4 million last year.
The ATP launched a bidding process in March to evaluate host cities in several regions before finalising on the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah, with the King Abdullah Sports City indoor facility staging the event this year from Nov 28 to Dec 2.
“The ATP Tour is truly global and exploring new markets is central to growing the game. Bringing the Next Gen ATP Finals to Jeddah is our chance to inspire new fans, in a region with a vast young population, and unite audiences around tennis,” ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said in a statement.
“Our congratulations go to Jeddah and the Saudi Tennis Federation. We look forward to building on the event’s incredible success together.”
Gaudenzi said earlier this year there had also been positive discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) and other potential investors on projects including infrastructure, events and technology investment.
Critics accuse Saudi Arabia of using the PIF to engage in “sportswashing” in the face of heavy criticism of the country’s human rights record.
World No 1 Carlos Alcaraz, 20, had welcomed the news then saying he had “no doubts” he would compete in Saudi Arabia at some point and added that the country has the power to hold plenty of tournaments.
Although other Gulf countries like Qatar and the UAE have hosted ATP tournaments in the past, Saudi Arabia only had the Diriyah Tennis Cup – an exhibition tournament.
Top players including Daniil Medvedev and Stan Wawrinka had competed in that event, which held its second edition last year.
Three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray had previously ruled out any possibility of playing in Saudi Arabia after being invited to exhibition tournaments but said he would have to think twice if ranking points were up for grabs.
In June, WTA CEO Steve Simon said the women’s tour had not made any decisions or entered into any formal negotiations with Saudi Arabia, saying they still posed “big issues” as a host for women’s events due to its record on women’s rights and those of the LGBTQ community.
Tunisian world No 5 Ons Jabeur said at Wimbledon last month that Saudi Arabian interest in tennis was welcome and that she would play in WTA events there if players were benefited.
However, Russia’s Daria Kasatkina expressed reservations, saying that “not everything is about money”.
The WTA did not immediately respond a Reuters request for comment on social media rumours that said its season-ending WTA Finals could potentially be headed to Saudi Arabia in future.