Next Gen ATP Finals

Young Fans Key To Tennis' Rise In Saudi Arabia

Sport's popularity riding wave among the Kingdom's large under-30 population.
November 30, 2023
Luca Nardi teams up with a junior Jeddah tennis player during a pre-tournament visit to Al-Balad.
Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour
Luca Nardi teams up with a junior Jeddah tennis player during a pre-tournament visit to Al-Balad. By ATP Staff

Anyone for tennis? In Saudi Arabia, the answer is increasingly ‘Yes’.

With a growing fan and player base, tennis is fast capturing the hearts and minds in the Kingdom, which boasts a 50 per cent sports participation rate. The Saudi Tennis Federation has a clear target demographic: the country’s 20m citizens under the age of 30.

A look at the faces this week in the Fan Zone at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM in Jeddah and in the stands at the King Abdullah Sports City confirms that young Saudis are quickly warming to the sport.

“Our strategy is to nurture young players, develop infrastructure, and invest in grassroots initiatives because youth is the key to any sport’s long-term success,” said President of the Saudi Tennis Federation (STF), Arij Almutabagani . “We’re certainly on the right path. Our strategy is working and we’re seeing interest and participation increase.”

<a href=''>Arthur Fils</a> with a young Saudi tennis fan at the Fan Zone at the <a href=''>Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM</a> in Jeddah.
Arthur Fils with a young Saudi tennis fan at the Fan Zone at the Next Gen ATP Finals.

Saudi today is home to 177 tennis clubs, up 146 per cent since 2019. In the past four years, the number of registered players has increased 46% to 2,300, with a 100 per cent increase in under-14 players, from 500 to more than 1,000.

The Saudi Tennis Federation (STF) also holds 40 national tournaments annually, including three ITF junior tournaments in the past year.

“Major strides have been taken and one of these was tennis being added to the school physical education curriculum earlier this year,” revealed Almutabagani.

Citing youth as the future, Almutabagani’s primary aspiration is building a vibrant junior tennis scene and she is adamant that tennis can embrace the Kingdom’s youth opportunity.

STF’s partnership with the Saudi Sports For All Federation (SFA) presented the ‘Tennis For All’ in 2022, a 16-week mass participation program to introduce tennis to a new generation of sports enthusiasts. 13,000 were introduced to tennis in the program’s first edition, with a much higher figure in 2023.

Young fans enjoying the Next Gen ATP Finals.
Young fans enjoying the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah.

This past April, Tennis For All was introduced in the Ministry of Education's curriculum at 90 public schools, with STF training 170 physical education teachers to provide efficient and effective lessons. Participation more than doubled this time around with an estimated 30,000.

“We’re targeting 200 schools in 2024 and 400 by 2025,” Almutabagani said. “Achieving this will support sustained growth as more tennis academies are launched and more national tennis centers are built. We already have 505 coaches and 182 officials in the Kingdom and we’ll be rolling out more opportunities for people to get involved. Roles like these are equally as important for the sport’s development, as are professional events.”

Young girls are coming to tennis through the Tennis For All programme.
Young Saudis are coming to tennis through the Tennis For All programme. Photo courtesy Tennis For All.

This week, STF is hosting the first ATP-sanctioned event in the Kingdom, the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM in Jeddah. A global, modern, and innovative competition featuring the world’s best 21-and-under players, the event is underway at King Abdullah Sports City from 28 November to 2 December. Sanctioned by the ATP Tour and hosted by STF, this historic event marks the beginning of a five-year contract to bring the pinnacle of young global tennis talent to the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia’s No. 1 male tennis player, Ammar Alhogbani, has been a hitting partner this week for the eight players competing in the Next Gen ATP Finals. He said of his excitement, “The growth of tennis in Saudi Arabia and for Saudi Arabian’s has been exceptional in recent years. I’m blessed to be even a small a part of it. To now also have the first sanctioned ATP event in our backyard is an immensely exciting part of our next chapter. I’m sure having the best young players from around the world here in Jeddah will inspire future generations of Saudi to follow in their footsteps and encourage all Saudi’s players to come out and experience the event for themselves.”

The value of Saudi Arabia’s sports event industry is growing by 8 per cent a year and will reach $3.3 billion by 2024 – a $1.2 billion increase from $2.1 billion in 2018. Additionally, significant events investments are being made with $2 billion committed to help sports grow by 2024.

The Next Gen ATP Finals are a direct result of this opportunity. With the event sure to inspire new fans, entice a young population, and unite audiences, many more will follow in the future.

“Tennis will become a big part of Saudi’s future sports event industry and this will be the first of many professional tennis tournaments that we stage,” added Almutabagani. “We eagerly anticipate welcoming tennis enthusiasts from across Saudi Arabia and beyond to witness the exhilarating matches and experience the innovation and excitement that the Next Gen ATP Finals will bring to Jeddah.”

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