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A combination of investment, redevelopment, and fan engagement are some of the many reasons why the Australian Open has continued to excel over the years.

In spite of player satisfaction and the ability to attract large audiences, Melbourne Park and the Australian summer of tennis leading up to the first Grand Slam of the year is no stranger to competition.

Replying to a question about whether there is a threat of the event being moved overseas, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley sent many into panic mode three years ago with the response - “it always is,” in an interview with SEN.

“Even though we have a contract until 2039 with the government, it doesn’t mean that if we didn’t have the event for a few years and another country put in a lot of money for a big event that it’s easy to play at, then they (top players) wouldn’t come here,” Tiley admitted.

“The only reason we get the players here is because we offer a lot of prize money and we spend a lot of time pursuing them to come.”

During that period, rumours were circulating around the possibility of China swooping in and submitting a bid to become the new host of the Grand Slam’s Asia Pacific.

Tiley, Tennis Australia, and the Victorian government are fully aware that they can ill afford to take this privilege for granted - hence the continued splashing of cash to further enhance the product each year.

Sport would be nothing without competition, and Australia is now faced with a fierce new competitor ready to take over the tennis world - Saudi Arabia.

Last week, the Middle Eastern nation officially unveiled ‘The Six Kings Slam’ to feature Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz, and Jannik Sinner designed as a multi-million dollar exhibition to take place in October.

In what is a tremendous coup, it’s only the beginning of their quest to dominate world tennis.

Jeddah became the new home of the ATP Next Generation Finals at the end of last year to take the rights away from Milan, whilst there are also strong reports of Saudi Arabia hoping to host the WTA Finals during early November as well as the Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

Bearing in mind the assertive dominance that the Saudis have slowly injected in other sports - should we really be surprised?

It all started with the LIV Golf Tour forming in 2021 to rival the PGA Tour driven by wealth with a prize fund totalling $405 million.

Then the craziness reached another level on a football perspective with the Saudi Super League’s spending spree which helped attract star names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and Neymar to cast fear into the top European domestic competitions.

That is being funded by the Public Investment Fund (PIF), financed by large Saudi companies to find themselves among one of the largest sovereign wealth funds globally worth an estimated $720 billion.

As you take a moment to gasp at that figure, yes, it’s a ridiculous amount of fortune. Now, the PIF is planning the possibility of pouring endless streams of money to take a stronghold of both ATP and WTA tennis.

For Australia, this could result in massive implications down the line.

During the new year, ATP Tour Chair Andrea Gaudenzi stated the inevitable regarding “positive” talks had already occurred with the PIF in relation to a tournament in Saudi Arabia as early as January 2025 estimated to be worth close to half a million dollars. A number of that magnitude firmly suggests that a new Masters 1000 event will be formed.

It’s bad enough that Australia has never had the opportunity to hold a Masters tournament, but what’s worse is the growing threat of Saudi Arabia disrupting the Aussie summer schedule. Let’s face it - the Masters 1000 will converge all of the world’s top players where it would change the perception and relevance of tournaments such as the United Cup and the Brisbane International to a far less significant standard.

Despite Tiley’s reassurance that the Australian Open is under contract for a further 15 years, there is always the risk of a substantial offer placed on the table to the point where how much is too much to turn down?

China’s financial strength a few years ago is completely different to the Saudi situation that is now being played out.

When the country’s domestic football competition (the Chinese Super League) began to throw money at the top players in the world over five years ago, there was the sense that the country could compete with some of the top European clubs in the near future.

Instead, all of that potential went down the drain as the Chinese government opted to develop their local talents and not spend on an influx of foreigners where a salary cap was soon installed.

Although there is still plenty of financial power in the Chinese market to flex their muscle on the tennis scene, you can’t help but feel that Saudi Arabia has already surpassed them as there are no signs of the PIF slowing down anytime soon.

What remains interesting is the much-discussed human rights issues that could derail the likelihood of convincing female athletes in particular to partake in a tournament that doesn’t share their core values. Even so, money always talks.

Make no mistake - the Saudis are on a mission to take a large portion of control over one of the most global and recognisable sports on the planet. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure does open an endless stream of exciting prospects.

The question remains - is Australia under serious threat?


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