Spain's Rafael Nadal is happy to be the ambassador of Saudi Tennis Federation and is planning to open his academy in the Kingdom. Image Credit: AFP

Melbourne: Rafa Nadal believes there is a big opportunity to grow tennis in Saudi Arabia after the 22-time Grand Slam champion was named an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation.

Nadal’s role will see the former world No 1 spend time each year in the Kingdom to help train children and grow interest in the sport, with plans also in the pipeline for a training academy, the Saudi federation said.

“Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia, you can see growth and progress and I’m excited to be part of that,” Nadal, who pulled out of the ongoing Australian Open with a muscle injury, said in a statement.

Final season on professional tour

The Spaniard, who recently visited a junior tennis clinic in Riyadh, struggled with a hip problem last year before making his comeback in Brisbane, but expects 2024 to be his final season on the professional tour.

“I continue to play tennis as I love the game,” Nadal said. “But beyond playing I want to help the sport grow far and wide across the world and in Saudi there is real potential.”

Rafael Nadal, who pulled out of the Australian Open with injury, is eager to help the sport grow far and wide across the world. Image Credit: AFP file

The men’s ATP Tour said in August its Next Gen Finals for under-21 players would be held in Jeddah from 2023 to 2027, marking its first official tournament in the Kingdom following previous exhibition events.

High-profile matches

Saudi Arabia also hosted high-profile exhibition matches last year with world No 1 Novak Djokovic playing Carlos Alcaraz and Aryna Sabalenka taking on Ons Jabeur.

There has also been frequent speculation that the women’s tour will move its season-ending WTA Finals to Saudi Arabia.

The WTA said in December it was in discussions with various groups over the 2024 Finals and beyond and no decision had been made yet.

Saudi Arabia has invested huge funds into sports including football, Formula One, boxing and golf.