Rafael Nadal of Spain signs autographs for fans after an exhibition game to inaugurate the Rafa Nadal Academy Kuwait, at Shaikh Jaber Al Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah International Tennis Complex in the Kuwaiti capital, on February 5, 2020.  / AFP / Yasser Al-Zayyat
Rafael Nadal of Spain signs autographs for fans after an exhibition game to inaugurate the Rafa Nadal Academy in Kuwait earlier this week. Image Credit: AFP

Kuwait: Former Gulf champion Mohammad Al Ghareeb is convinced the new Rafa Nadal Academy will alter the sporting landscape of Kuwait and the surrounding region.

Al Ghareeb, who has been the mainstay of the Kuwaiti Davis Cup squad for nearly two decades, is currently associated with the national squad and the new academy designed to take the sport forward in Kuwait.

Al Ghareeb and doubles partner Abdullah Maqdas have been training with a group of around 30 youngsters in an attempt to usher in a better future for the sport in Kuwait.

“It’s always good to have a sound teamwork in sport,” Al Ghareeb told Gulf News.

“With the arrival of the Rafa Nadal Academy, we will have access to the best coaches and some of the best players in the world and this can only be a win-win situation for tennis here,” the 39-year-old added.

Last summer, a group of junior tennis players from Kuwait stayed on for a month at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Spain. “So the coaches already have a fair idea of what our players are. And now with the academy opening here, it can attract more kids to come in and join. This can only do good for the youngsters, for their families and for tennis in Kuwait,” Al Ghareeb noted.

Al Ghareeb is still involved with the Kuwait Davis Cup squad where his best performance was leading the national team to their most successful foray while reaching the Asia/Oceania Group II final with wins over Iran and Indonesia. One of its longest-standing members, Al Ghareeb had a 67-31 record in Davis Cup for Kuwait, as of 2018.

“In a way we feel responsible for these younger players. They look up to us and it is our responsibility to pass on the finer aspects of the sport to them, I think that with the arrival of the Rafa Nadal Academy, this weight has been eased off to a certain extent,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nadal felt his new venture in Kuwait may work out as a boon for the Gulf region to see more of the player in the near future.

“I have always loved this region. This is one place where I feel welcomed. It’s as though I have a certain attachment to the Gulf,” Nadal told media on the sidelines of the official opening of his signature academy in Kuwait City earlier this week.

“I have been to the Dubai tournament a few times during my early years as a player. I have also played quite often in Doha and at the Mubadala Tennis in Abu Dhabi. I have great memories of these places over the years. It is not like I am 25 years old any more but I will be more than happy to move around more a bit in the next few years for sure,” he added.

While Federer holds the record in Dubai with eight titles against his name, Nadal too enjoyed success in 2006 when he fought back from a set down to win 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 against his Swiss opponent at an epic Dubai Duty Free Men’s Open final. In Doha too, Federer leads the record with three titles so far while Nadal has won it once [in 2014], while ending runner-up on two occasions in 2010 and 2016.

“I would want to see the progress of these kids from Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar. I want to be around to encourage them,” he added.