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PROPOSED SAUDI EVENT COULD BE A DISASTER FOR AUSTRALIA



Earlier this month The Times reported that the Saudi Arabia are planning to shake up the ATP calendar with a supposed Masters 1000 to be staged in January 2025 and beyond.

The Middle Eastern nation will in turn fund an abundance of cash into the men’s governing body, making it even stronger within the global sporting landscape.

A decade ago it was China that began splashing money at athletes and sports to bring the stars of the world to its shores, and now Saudi Arabia has entered that fray since its football league signed the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Jordan Henderson.

It has also dabbled in Formula One with the country’s race now fixed on the calendar, will host the 2034 FIFA World Cup following the success of neighbour in Qatar and who could forget LIV Golf?

However, a Formula One schedule and FIFA World Cup are much easier to circumnavigate than a tennis calendar, which boasts 70 tournaments on the ATP side alone in 2024.

Should a Masters 1000 barge its way into the calendar in January, what would that mean for Australia’s summer of tennis and the events that are staples in the lead up to the opening major of the year?

Already pencilled in for next year are the United Cup, Brisbane, Adelaide, Auckland and a new event in Hong Kong, where would these tournaments go?

Australia already loses out due to its location following the conclusion of the Australian Open, and the fact that the country has lost out on a plethora of Davis Cup ties makes matters even worse.

We are trying to keep growing the sport on this continent and January is the main time to do it, the weather is consistently pristine, our tournaments attract the world’s best and it is school holidays.

It feels ominous that a Saudi Arabian Masters 1000 would disrupt the entire month and even call for the movement of the string of events on our shores.

Let’s take a short look back at the 2021 Australian summer when everything was played in February due to Covid-19 restrictions, ratings were down because most people were back at work and students back at school.

The fact that children can watch tennis all day during their holidays is such a bonus, it is why copious amounts of people have come to love the sport and follow it all year round.

Shafting our events back to February is simply not an option and Tennis Australia, one of the major players in global tennis, needs to put its foot down and tell the ATP that if it wants a cash grab, put the Saudi event in February and run it near the tournament’s staged in Doha and Dubai.

It may not make Indian Wells happy as it won’t be the first Masters event of the year, but it would be the same as if it was placed in January.

Tennis Australia has invested heavily in bringing the world’s most marketable players to our shores before the Open for years, with the ATP and United Cups doing a great job of that, as well as what the Brisbane and Adelaide International have provided for many players looking to get acclimatised.

It would be a huge slap in the face to the organisation should they be forced to budge on their peak period.

Surely majors and history outweigh a Saudi mega-cheque, well the Davis and Billie Jean King Cup might have put a pen through that.

It isn’t just the Australian tournaments, with Auckland boasting an illustrious history since its inception in 1968. It has long been an important run into the festivities at Melbourne Park.

The competition has seen the likes of Mark Woodforde, Gustavo Kuerten, Marcelo Rios, Fernando Gonzalez, David Ferrer, Juan Martin del Potro and John Isner hoist the trophies in its long tenure.

Saudi Arabia will host the ATP NextGen Finals until 2027 after the tournament’s inaugural stint in Milan concluded last year, and the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund will look extremely tantalising to Andrea Gaudenzi and his colleagues.

But money should not dictate this decision, it is playing around with history and an entire region’s peak period.

Australia’s summer would lose coverage, relevance, crowds and ratings. It would be a disaster.

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