Novak Djokovic warned Saturday that the “integrity and tradition” of tennis must be preserved should the sport strike a tournament deal with Saudi Arabia.
Both the ATP and WTA, which run the money-spinning men’s and women’s tours, have been targeted by the Saudis despite accusations that the Gulf kingdom is attempting to “sportswash” their human rights record.
The country has been signing up veteran football stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to play in their domestic league and are bankrolling English club Newcastle.
Saudi Arabia also caused shockwaves in golf with its financing of the rebel LIV series and already hosts a Formula One Grand Prix.
“I think that we as individual sport on a global level are probably closest to golf in terms of how we see sports,” 23-time major winner Djokovic said at Wimbledon.
“I think from that example we can probably learn a lot, some positives, some negatives, and try to structure a deal — if it’s going in that direction — that it is going to protect the integrity and tradition and history of this sport, but still be able to grow it in such way that it will be appropriate.”
WTA chief executive Steve Simon said Friday that his organisation is evaluating the “challenging topic” of taking the sport to Saudi Arabia.
The country has been linked with hosting the flagship end-of-season WTA Championships.
“It’s a very difficult and challenging topic that is being measured by many groups right now,” Simon said.
“In February I went to Saudi Arabia to see it for myself. We took a couple of players and some reps as well. We wanted to see what the change was.”
ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi has said the men’s tour has had “positive” discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund about a potential deal.
That announcement drew criticism from tennis legends John McEnroe and Chris Evert.
Former world number one Andy Murray, who has refused to play exhibitions in Saudi Arabia despite the offer of mind-boggling sums of money, said that it would be a “different, difficult question” if the tournaments were official tour events.
“When you start missing them, you obviously get penalised for that. It’s definitely something I would have to think about. Unfortunately it’s the way that a lot of sports seem to be going now,” said the British star.
‘Play Wherever WTA Decides’
Women’s world number one Iga Swiatek said she was still waiting to see if a WTA deal with the Saudis is finalised.
“It’s hard to know what is the rumour and what’s not,” said Swiatek but added “I’ll be ready to play wherever the WTA decides we’re going to play.”
Swiatek, the reigning US Open and French Open champion, has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Although the 22-year-old Pole admitted she hasn’t thought about the potential pitfalls of Saudi Arabia, she believes she and her peers can have an influence on any decision.
“I was more thinking what I can do as an individual player. For sure we as a community, I feel like we have some power, we could use that,” she said.