by Craig Vickers
Rafael Nadal will play an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi just five days after his controversial Saudi Arabia event was scheduled.
The Spaniard withdrew from the proposed exhibition event in Jeddah with Novak Djokovic citing injury – after pressure mounted on both players to abandon the event following the brutal murder of Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A $2 million appearance fee was on offer to both players as the country aims to bolster its sporting image.
Djokovic, who began his Nitto ATP Finals campaign last night with a commanding victory over John Isner, confirmed Nadal had withdrawn from the event as he continues his recovery from injury, but the Serbian stopped short of saying it was due to the criticism.
“It’s not happening,” he told reporters in London. When pressed whether it was due to Nadal’s injury, he bluntly replied “yes”.
Nadal previously said that he hoped “things will be clarified soon” on the situation, adding: “It’s terrible that a journalist lost his life. I know something very bad happened inside [the consulate in Istanbul]. So we are looking at how the situation evolves.”
However, the Spaniard is now scheduled to appear at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, which starts five days after the proposed exhibition Saudi Arabia.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion was forced to pull out of the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals with an ankle problem and has not played a competitive match since he retired injured in his semi-final clash with Juan Martin del Potro at the US Open in September.
Nadal will make his 10th appearance in Abu Dhabi, joining Novak Djokovic, Karen Khachanov, Venus Williams and Kevin Anderson at a venue where he has traditionally started his season.
The world number two says in a statement: “Abu Dhabi is one of my favourite places to play, the climate, atmosphere and enthusiasm from the crowds at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship provides the perfect start to the new season.
“The tournament brings together players at the top of their game; we all relish playing in these extremely competitive matches.”
Nadal was originally scheduled to return to action at the Paris Masters at the end of last month, but he withdrew from the final Masters 1000 event of the year – and later the ATP Finals – with an abdominal injury. The 32-year-old has withdrawn or retired from eleven of his twelve hard court events this year.
He bemoaned a “complicated year” on Facebook when he announced the end to his season and his doctor, Angel Ruiz-Cotorro, told CNN Nadal will undergo surgery on a “free body bone” in his right ankle.
John Lickrish, CEO of FLASH Entertainment which supports the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, says in a statement: “We’re putting together an exciting line-up – one that reiterates the growing promise of the Mubadala World Tennis Championships on the global tennis calendar.
“Nadal’s return, alongside the new number one, Novak Djokovic, plus returning champ, Kevin Anderson underlines the importance top players place on the event.
“Welcoming Venus Williams for her debut in Abu Dhabi adds additional star power; we’re truly excited at the calibre of participants this year.”