Rafael Nadal is going to serve as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Rafael Nadal will serve as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation, part of a recent effort by the kingdom to make inroads into tennis and other sports.

Nadal, a 37-year-old from Spain who owns 22 Grand Slam titles, currently is missing the Australian Open while recovering from a muscle tear near his surgically repaired hip. He had hoped to return to Grand Slam action at Melbourne Park after missing nearly all of 2023.

Nadal’s new role, announced Monday, includes promoting tennis in Saudi Arabia and plans for a Rafa Nadal Academy there.

It signals yet another step into tennis for the kingdom, which is hosting the men’s tour’s Next Gen ATP Finals for top 21-and-under players in Jedda through 2027. The women’s tour has been in talks to place its season-ending WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia.

Rights groups say women continue to face discrimination in most aspects of family life in the kingdom, and homosexuality is a major taboo, as it is in most of the rest of the Middle East.

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.

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