ATP, Saudi Arabia’s PIF strike sponsorship deal that includes rankings

Serbia's Novak Djokovic lifts his trophy after defeating Norway's Casper Ruud 7-5, 6-3, in the singles final tennis match to win the ATP World Tour Finals at the Pala Alpitour, in Turin, Italy, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (Antonio Calanni/AP)

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the men’s professional tennis tour have agreed to a five-year partnership that includes naming rights for the ATP rankings, the latest move by the kingdom into that sport and others.

The ATP already had a deal that placed its Next Gen ATP Finals — a tournament for players 21 and under — in Jeddah from 2023 through 2027. The arrangement announced Wednesday includes courtside branding for the PIF at the season-ending ATP Finals and tournaments in Indian Wells, California; Miami, Madrid and Beijing.

Pepperstone had sponsored the ATP rankings since 2022.

ATP chief executive Massimo Calvelli called the new agreement “a major moment for tennis,” and the tour’s announcement touted ways in which it hopes the sport will continue to grow in Saudi Arabia.

Tennis has been consumed lately by the debate over whether the sport should follow golf and others in making deals with the wealthy kingdom, where rights groups say women continue to face discrimination in most aspects of family life and homosexuality is a major taboo, as it is in much of the rest of the Middle East.

The WTA women’s tennis tour has been in negotiations to partner with Saudi Arabia, including possibly placing its season-ending WTA Finals there.

“As part of our plans to grow the value of women’s tennis, we regularly speak to both existing and potential commercial partners about possible new forms of collaboration. While we don’t rule anything out for the future, there is no new update at this time,” a WTA spokesperson wrote in an email Wednesday.

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova are among those who have urged the WTA to stay out of Saudi Arabia, while another former star player and Hall of Famer, equal rights pioneer Billie Jean King, has advocated for engagement.

In January, 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal was introduced as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation. This month, plans were announced for Nadal, Novak Djokovic and four other stars of men’s tennis to participate in an exhibition event in Riyadh in October.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has worked to get himself out of international isolation since the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. He also clearly wants to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and reduce its reliance on oil.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has enacted wide-ranging social reforms, including granting women the right to drive and largely dismantling male guardianship laws that had allowed husbands and male relatives to control many aspects of women’s lives. Men and women are still required to dress modestly, but the rules have been loosened and the once-feared religious police have been sidelined. Gender segregation in public places has also been eased, with men and women attending movie screenings, concerts and even raves — something unthinkable just a few years ago.

Still, same-sex relations are punishable by death or flogging, though prosecutions are rare. Authorities ban all forms of LGBTQ+ advocacy, even confiscating rainbow-colored toys and clothing.

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