LONDON: Tunisian star Ons Jabeur has backed the Women’s Tennis Association over their decision to evaluate the potential for playing a tournament in Saudi Arabia.
After finishing as Wimbledon runner-up last year, Jabeur is the sport’s most prominent Arab player and her support for the WTA’s interest in the Gulf state is a significant boost to the governing body.
“If it benefits for the player, I’m 100 percent there. I hope in Saudi they will not just invest with ATP, I hope with WTA (as well),” Jabeur said after her straight sets win against Magdalena Frech in the Wimbledon first round on Tuesday.
WTA chief executive Steve Simon said last week that his organization is considering the “challenging topic” of taking the sport to Saudi Arabia.
The country has been linked with hosting the flagship end-of-season WTA Championships.
The Saudis have been increasing their global reach in recent years.
As well as the Saudi interest in women’s tennis, 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.
Jabeur doesn’t agree and pointed out that significant progress is being made in Saudi Arabia with regard to women’s rights.
“I believe in Saudi they’re doing great giving women more rights. It’s time to change things,” she said.
“Believe it or not, we have the best two women in the Arabic world right now playing in tennis (herself and Egypt’s Mayar Sherif). It’s now or never. I hope they really invest in WTA.”
The Saudis have been signing up veteran football stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to play in their domestic league and are bankrolling English Premier League club Newcastle.
Jabeur, beaten by Elena Rybakina in last year’s Wimbledon final before also finishing runner-up at the US Open, is convinced Saudi involvement in tennis would run far smoother than it did in golf.
“I think it's a completely different situation than golf,” she said.
“I went to Saudi last year and I was very impressed with the people there. I believe it could be a great idea to go there and play tournaments.
“Let’s see what the deal will be. I hope they will see us for players, not just an investment but to give us more benefits than what we’re having right now.”
Sixth seeded Jabeur will face Belgium’s Ysaline Bonaventure or China’s Zhouxian Bai for a place in the Wimbledon last 32.