Saudi Arabia dropped a depth charge into the tennis world on Monday night with the announcement of a multi-million-dollar exhibition event featuring Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and four other leading men.
While this one event – to be called “The 6 Kings Slam” – does not in itself constitute a “LIV Tennis” scenario, it will run in Riyadh this October in direct competition to the ATP Tour.
Although the official announcement was light on details, sources believe that the prize money on offer for the winner could be as much as $6 million (£4.8 million), with the six participants – who also include Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz, Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner, the 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev and rising Danish star Holger Rune – each being guaranteed $1.5 million simply for turning up.
Considering that the prize money for last summer’s Wimbledon stood at £2.35 million for the champion, the 6 Kings Slam represents a reshaping of the game’s economics. Even the name is a challenge to the four so-called slams which constitute the tent-poles of the world tour.
The actual date for the 6 Kings Slam has not yet been announced, but there is an inviting gap between the Shanghai Masters (which finishes on Oct 13) and the Paris Masters (which starts on Oct 28) for the Saudis to work with.
During this relatively quiet fortnight, four smaller ATP events (Antwerp and Astana in the first week, Basel and Vienna in the second) will hope that they are not the ones being overshadowed by the new tournament.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund is taking an increasingly close interest in tennis, with an ATP sponsorship deal apparently in the works. So far, however, the PIF has been frustrated in its intention to host an ATP Masters 1000 event – the next level down from the four slams.
Although ATP Tour boss Andrea Gaudenzi has supported the idea of a new Masters 1000 tournament in Riyadh in the first week of the season, this has so far been opposed by Tennis Australia on the grounds that it would clash with their United Cup team event.
One of the few other plausible spots in the calendar is the soft patch between Shanghai and Paris. So it seems possible that the 6 Kings Slam could be a way of forcing the ATP’s hand, occupying that space, and potentially preparing the ground for an eventual upgrade into an official Masters 1000 event.
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Nadal, in particular, is growing increasingly close after he recently became an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation. The announcement of the deal last month led a spokesman for Amnesty International to accuse Nadal of supporting “Saudi Arabia’s relentless sportswashing operation.”