Another day, another incursion by Saudi Arabia into major professional sports.
The country’s General Entertainment Authority announced on Monday that a tennis event it is calling the “6 Kings Slam” will take place this October in Riyadh and feature Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz.
The event will be an exhibition and not count for points or be a part of the men’s ATP Tour, but the participation of three of its biggest stars is yet another sign that Saudi Arabia is willing to pay top dollar to attract top tennis talent. Jannik Sinner, Daniil Medvedev and Holger Rune, will round out the field. Rune is the only player involved who has not won a Grand Slam title.
Djokovic has won 24. Nadal, who announced last month that he had signed on to become an ambassador for Saudi Arabian tennis and work to develop the sport in the kingdom, has won 22. Alcaraz has won two and Medvedev and Sinner, who recently dueled in the Australian Open final, have each won one.
The announcement comes as Saudi Arabia is nearing a deal to begin hosting the WTA Tour finals, which is the season-ending championship of women’s professional tennis. The deal is expected to be announced this month, barring a last-minute change of heart by the tour’s leaders and players.
In addition, two people with knowledge of ongoing discussions said the country’s Public Investment Fund was closing in on a multi-year deal with the ATP and the WTA for the naming rights to each tour’s rankings. The deal is a part of a series of negotiations that Saudi Arabia hopes lead to the country being able to host a top-level tournament.
Officials with the tours and representatives of the investment fund did not immediately respond to requests for comment. According to one of the people who has been briefed on the talks, the deal is likely to include a provision that allows the Saudi interests to back out of it in two years if it is not a host of a tournament.
In the meantime, while Saudi officials have told tennis leaders they do not intend to launch a rival tour as they did in golf, the country continues to showcase its willingness and ability to pay to attract the top players in the world, players who are represented by various management firms and who are not always aligned in their views on the sport.
Also, Nadal’s participation is noteworthy, since he is trying to recover from hip surgery and play in a handful of tournaments that are of special significance to him in what he has said may be his final year in the sport. After he pulled out of the Australian Open with an injury to a muscle near his hip, there was speculation that he might not play much beyond the French Open, which takes place on the red clay of Roland Garros where he has won 14 times, or perhaps the Paris Olympics, which will also take place at Roland Garros.
“I am excited to return to Riyadh and play in front of all my Saudi fans,” Nadal said in a statement included in the announcement of the event. “I am very excited to play for the first time in Riyadh.”
(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)