Nadal Alcaraz Madrid 2021

Carlos Alcaraz defends Rafael Nadal and claims Saudi Arabia is ‘good for tennis’

Carlos Alcaraz has backed compatriot Rafael Nadal’s decision to become an ambassador for the Saudi Arabian Tennis Federation (STF), claiming there is ‘no better person’ to help develop the sport in the Middle Eastern country.

Alcaraz is currently in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, and was asked about the 22-time Grand Slam champion’s decision to join forces with the STF.

“I’ve heard people say they’ve been criticising him,” said the Wimbledon champion. “Well, Rafa has decided to be an ambassador, I personally don’t think it’s bad, he has signed up as a tennis ambassador.

“It’s a country that is developing, what better than Rafa getting in there to expand the world of tennis to places where it was never played before. We players are trying to attract more people to watch tennis and there is no better person than Rafa to do that.”

Part of Nadal’s responsibility as an ambassador for the STF includes visiting the country several times a year and helping develop the junior tennis scene in Saudi Arabia.

However, this move has been criticised by those claiming that it is an example of sportwashing, a term used to describe a nation investing a high amount of money to cover human rights breaches, something that has been highlighted by tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.

As with other sports including golf, football and Formula One, Saudi Arabia appears to be moving more and more into tennis, with the ATP Next Gen Finals being held in the capital of Jeddah until 2027.

Alcaraz has also played in an exhibition match against Novak Djokovic in Jeddah and is set to compete at the ‘Six Kings Slam’ event alongside Nadal and others later this year.

This exhibition event will see all six players receive a reported appearance fee of $1.5million, with the winner earning a potential $6million.

Despite the human rights concerns, Alcaraz appears positive about the future collaboration between Saudi Arabia and tennis, “It’s good for tennis that there are more venues, that the countries where we go and where we play are opening up.

“Arabia is a country that is evolving very fast in all senses, in the world of sport there are a lot of events there. Football, now a lot of tennis. It’s good for sport in general. I don’t know how far we’ll go, but I’m sure it will be evolving.”

Inside the baseline…

It is unsurprising that Carlos Alcaraz is unwilling to criticise Rafael Nadal’s decision, as they are compatriots and the 20-year-old understandably idolises the tennis legend. Alongside that, Alcaraz also has invested interest in Saudi Arabia coming into tennis, with the current world No.2 receiving generous fees for playing in these exhibition events and is likely to want to continue doing so in the future. However, the concerns for sportwashing by Saudi Arabia should be taken seriously, with previous and current breaches against women and LGBTQ+ people.

READ MORE – Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal announced for Saudi Arabian exhibition

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.