Djokovic and Sabalenka back in Australian Open action

Djokovic and Sabalenka back in Australian Open action
Djokovic and Sabalenka back in Australian Open action

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Newly appointed Saudi Tennis Federation (STF) ambassador Rafa Nadal is set to bring his unique brand of inspiration to the Saudi tennis scene.

The new role is announced following a recent surprise visit to a junior tennis clinic in Riyadh hosted by the STF and will see the Spanish superstar spend time in the Kingdom each year to help nurture and plan the development of boys and girls in the sport as well as grow further interest in tennis among the country’s young population.

Beyond encouraging the growth of the sport overall, plans are also being put in place to develop a new Rafa Nadal Academy to nurture talent and serve as a center of excellence to help aspiring players fulfill their tennis dreams.

Nadal, who has won 22 Grand Slam men’s singles titles to date, is set to support tennis in one of the fastest growing countries in the world, with sport becoming an increasingly important part of daily life, especially for the Kingdom’s 20 million people aged under 30 years old.

Speaking on his new role as an ambassador to the Saudi Tennis Federation, Nadal said; “Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia, you can see growth and progress and I’m excited to be part of that. 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.”

Under Vision 2030, sports participation across men and women in Saudi Arabia has rapidly increased and is now close to 50 percent, more than tripling since 2015. The number of sporting federations have also tripled during this time with the STA a perfect example of the growth story underway.

Nadal will look to accelerate the momentum which has been building across the entire tennis ecosystem from the grassroots up. In 2023 an estimated 30,000 school children took their first steps in tennis thanks to the ‘Tennis For All’ program, a unique partnership between the STF and Saudi Sports For All Federation, which saw tennis introduced to the physical education curriculum in 90 schools. Future plans are already in place to roll the program out in 200 schools in 2024 and 400 in 2025.

Today Saudi Arabia is home to 177 tennis clubs, up 146 percent since 2019. In the last four years, the number of registered players has increased by 46 percent to 2,300 and under-14 players by 100 percent — from 500 to +1,000. STF also now holds 40 national tournaments annually — including hosting three ITF Juniors tournaments in the past year.

Saudi Tennis Federation President, Arij Almutabagani, added: “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 instill in our own future stars. Not just to develop them as players but as people.

“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!”

Nadal and his coaching team are also set to develop a program of values to inspire ‘Team Saudi’, the national teams who represent the Saudi Olympic & Paralympic Committees in international tournaments and will share their knowledge with all players and their coaches.

Under Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s ongoing social and economic transformation, the country has become a welcoming host for some of the biggest global sports events. Since 2018 the Kingdom has staged over 85 international events for both male and female athletes including football, motorsports, tennis, equestrian, esports and golf, attended by over 2.6 million sports fans.

The latest addition, the Next Gen ATP Finals 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, with Nadal now committed to supporting future events in an ambassadorial role.

Almutabagani, continued: “Yes, we want to host the world’s best to inspire and help our young people fall in love with the game. But looking ahead one day we also want to play alongside and compete against the world’s best male and female players. We know it’s a long journey ahead but we’re investing in our children and committed for the long-term. And hopefully with Rafa’s support we’ll go along that journey a little bit faster and as a fit and healthy nation.”

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