Saudi Arabia is to stage its first ever international tennis tournament, a men’s exhibition event, in a “watershed moment for the Kingdom”, the country’s top sports official said on Tuesday.
Swiss three-time Grand Slam winner Stanislas Wawrinka and rising star Daniil Medvedev are two big names already signed up to appear in the eight-player December 12-14 hardcourt event.
“Hosting world class international tennis in Saudi Arabia for the very first time is another watershed moment for the Kingdom,” said Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, chairman of the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia.
The $3 million tournament is being staged in Diriyah on the outskirts of Riyadh, the venue for the world heavyweight title rematch between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr on December 7.
Saudi rulers are using sport to try and soften their international image and to provide a showcase, they say, for reforms inside the oil-rich state.
In February they hosted a first European Tour golf event and they are staging next year’s Dakar Rally.
All this comes after the Saudis faced intense diplomatic fallout over the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the conservative kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October last year.